When fear drove the disciples behind closed doors in John 20:19-29, Jesus came to them with words of peace and comfort. But that’s not all. Jesus also brought a challenge. The great joy of the disciples upon seeing Jesus was followed by the injunction to receive the Holy Spirit and become a community of forgiveness.
Thomas, notorious for his doubting was not present when Jesus appeared. He could not find it within himself to rely on the testimony of the other disciples, but must see the resurrected Jesus’ wounds before he believed. Thomas, of course, was only wanting the same confirmation that all the others disciples had already been offered. They, huddled together in fear, were no terrific models of faith without seeing for themselves.
Jesus offered a blessing for those who believed in him without having tangible proof. This is a comfort for Christians in the 21st century, for we find ourselves included in this blessing. Faith is a gift from God, not something we find we have owing to our keen powers of observation, nor to the convincing testimony of others! Faith comes to us as the benefit of our own encounters with God’s grace.
- What do you think Jesus meant when he said “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”? (v. 23)
- How have you become aware of God’s gift of faith for you?
- In what ways has faith been both easy and difficult for you?
- Would tangible proof to substantiate your faith make it richer or poorer?
- Spend time writing a note about persons and situations which need forgiveness. (It is true that, lacking forgiveness, those painful situations certainly are retained—often to our detriment.) After you have done so, read aloud, reflect on that person(s) and then offer a prayer asking God to strengthen each person as they seeks to be forgiving.
- Forgiveness is more than words. Reflect on ways in which your congregation can be an agent of forgiveness in your community. Create a list to stick on your refrigerator or somewhere where it will be visible. Grab a few fellow church members, choose one or two items on your list and decide on a plan for making forgiveness tangible.
- Review a book or magazine article about a person of faith. The subject need not be prominent, but possible subjects may include former President Jimmy Carter, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.