When I read today's excerpt from John's Gospel telling of Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to his disciples, the simplicity of the description seemed scant in view of the subject. Consider the scene: Jesus came and "stood among them."
He quickly recognized the needs of his disciples devastated by the humiliation, scourging and crucifixion they had witnessed during the last several days. His utterly unexpected presence bewildered them. He discerned their bafflement because he showed them his wounds.
Convinced by this candid display of trust, "The disciples rejoiced." Such a muted description.
But wait! I have learned from the bustling, animated writing of G.K. Chesterton, (1874-1936) English writer, poet, lay theologian and philosopher. He merits the addition to that list the honourable designation of teacher.
Among his many insights, he recognized the play of paradox and uses it to make his arguments. For example, in commenting on John's narrative he might say something to this effect: "It is so simple. The beguiling charm of its simplicity is its complexity."
'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.'
With that in mind, we can imagine what happened when "the disciples rejoiced": moments of astonished silence would mark their first reaction to the sudden appearance of Jesus in the closed room, a secure place.
Uncomprehending, they hear his blessing, "Peace be with you." Jesus knew of the unsettling effects of such an unexpected appearance on people at any time, but how much more with memories of the crucifixion still vivid. Their incomprehension so apparent, Jesus shows them his wounded hands and side.
Now with fingers on chins, mouths agape in wonder, scarcely breathing, they search his face and form for familiar clues. They look at each other as if to confirm what they see, and then with all doubts banished, a sudden recognition of reality.
Whoops of wonder! Questions! Cheers! Maybe congratulations, though I find that mildly incongruous. John captures that gradual, complex development of understanding with the simplest word, "saw" as in "the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord."
In like manner, a search under the veil of simplicity finds the complexity we now know to expect. Jesus calms the disciples and supports their restored enthusiasms by repeating his blessing and declaring their mission. "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
He continues with his empowerment of the disciples, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
It bears examination. Students of Church history had long studied the origins of the sacrament of Penance, or Reconciliation, but Pope Pius X seemed to settle the matter in 1910 when he reaffirmed the relevance of this very passage to this sacrament.
Jesus added an exquisite refinement. In another place once again in teaching mode, He made the intimate link between forgiveness and retention clear. Peter asks him how often he should forgive his brother who has sinned against him. "Seven?" Jesus replied "Seventy times seven."
How liberating an affirmation. Praise him!
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)