Pentecost Sunday June 4, 2017
The Only Way to Attain Peace
English teachers caution against the passive voice. “The ball was hit.” Who hit it? In the passive voice it’s not always clear who controls the action.
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). Because Jesus uses the passive voice, we might wonder: forgiven, or retained, by whom? One traditional reading is “by God.” That is, Jesus gives the disciples the power to direct God’s action. Maybe; but we can’t prove that from the text. But one interpretation is demonstrably true: If the disciples forgive or retain someone’s sins, the sins are forgiven or retained by the disciples.
These are powerful words for the disciples to hear, just three days after watching their leader suffer and die. Imagine the weight of their anger against those who crucified their Lord. Bearing that kind of burden, how will the disciples move forward to fruitful lives in God’s service? Jesus brings them what they need: peace. And then he tells them the only way to attain peace: forgive.
Seen in this light, Jesus’ words are both promise and warning. By forgiving the sins of others, we can find peace. But if we retain the sins of others, we are choosing to carry a burden that prevents peace and holds us back from the lives God wants for us.
But how could the disciples forgive the grievous sins against Jesus? How can we forgive the sins of those who have hurt us beyond measure? Forgiveness seems impossible, until we remember that Jesus gave his disciples the Holy Spirit, which gives the power to do impossible things. On this Pentecost, let us release the weight of not forgiving, and celebrate the Spirit’s power to free us to God’s service.
Ginny Tobiassen, pastor, Home Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina