20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
A Question or Two:
- Did Thomas put his finger in the nail holes?
- Why, or why not?
Some Longer Reflections:
Jesus says: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This time as I read those words, I noticed two things:
- Radical Connectedness
- Radical Honesty
These two belong together. Together, they make is clear that the damage we do to each other is between us. We CAN forgive, and that is what it takes. It is also all that it takes. And when forgiveness happens, actual forgiveness, we are set free from being bound to a past that haunts us. We are radically connected.
But this scene, in its radical honesty, recognizes that sometimes we cannot forgive. Sometimes we simply cannot. I don’t know that it is useful to imagine what such crimes might be. There are a few, maybe more than a few. I hear the words of a mother, a grandmother, mourning a young black man shot to death by people I think of as protectors and public servants. I hear the voice of a young woman, attacked by someone she thought she could trust. I see her face when the institution, the business, the church, the school, the platoon turns their back on her. I see her reaction to being abandoned by the people that should have had her back. I hear old men telling stories of being called “boy.” I hear their grandsons grinding their teeth as they learn that every contact with white society will be viewed as a confrontation. They grind their teeth because they have been taught that they will only be safe in these “confrontations” if they surrender elaborately every time.
I hear. I see. And I wonder what we do when we encounter something that cannot be forgiven.
I don’t think we do best to begin by meditating on those instances of astounding forgiveness: Mennonites who forgive the man who murdered their children; families who forgave the “dead man walking;” Pearl Harbor survivors who forgave each other for the things they had to do in time of war.
These stories are amazing, and may even offer the real way forward. But the danger is that we use such astonishing feats of forgiveness to shame the grandmothers, the young men, the women who carry memories of stalking traumas that terrify them.
- We shame such people because we are tired of hearing their stories.
- We shame them because we can’t think of a way to undo the wrong and therefore choose to pretend that it didn’t happen in the first place.
- We shame them because they remind us that we are surrounded by people whose basic experience of the world involves violence and danger of a sort we cannot wish away.
- We shame them because their very existence reminds us that schools and communities and everyday realities guarantee that the disparities tied to race and class will continue.
This time reading this scene from John’s gospel I remember Bonhoeffer’s words about cheap grace and forgiveness without repentance. It is not as simple as I thought it was when I first read Bonhoeffer in high school. Nor is it as simple as the proponents of what they sometimes call a “muscular Christianity” think. Grace is a gift, not a reward for getting pumped up, and Bonhoeffer knew that. Bonhoeffer understood that the world we really live in is the only real world. And in this world, we do real injury to each other, and some of that damage cannot be forgiven.
But Bonhoeffer also understood that this makes grace the only force that can create the world and preserve it.
But note that Jesus’ words in this scene make it clear that this grace can only be enacted between us. We are radically connected, and the creation and preservation of the world hangs on how we honor each other.