Jesus Commissions the Disciples
A reading from the Gospel according to John (20.21-23)
Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘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.’
In this passage Jesus is giving the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples on the day of the resurrection, however it not meant to be a parting gift, just something the remember him by, but an empowerment to be him in the world. St. John in his Gospel assumes that Jesus has already ascended and been glorified by God bypassing the Ascension and as proclaimed in the other gospels and Pentecost as described in the Acts of the Apostles.
In this short passage Jesus uses the traditional Jewish greeting “peace be with you”, which John says Jesus had used when he initially came to be with them. However this time he continues with, “as the Father sent me, so I send you”. So we have a greeting and a command, however the command becomes a commission when Jesus breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit”. To use a contemporary analogy a command might be to go and nurse those sick with the coronavirus and a commission would be and here is the PPE to use.
How do we greet each other? Well in the Church we do say “peace be with you” when we share the peace during the Mass, but I doubt if we use that expression at other times. I brought up in Coventry which was a melting pot of people from all over the United Kingdom, refugees from Europe and immigrants from our Commonwealth counties; all drawn by the economic benefits derived from manufacturing industries. I am sure that everybody brought with them their own greetings, but “are you alright?”, shortened to “alright?” seems to be the one that crossed cultures easily. The problem being that it was a question which the enquirer really did not want to hear a negative answer, so that they had to engage in further conversation. The expected answer was “alright” without the question mark. I did not mind this salutation as it was part of my culture but I did get rather annoyed with one young man when I was Vicar of Willenhall who insisted on shouting across the street “alright Vic” - bless him. The marvellous thing about the greeting, “peace be with you”, is that it is a gift, which which is lovely if it is reciprocated, but the gift is retained none the less.
Jesus therefore gives his disciples two gifts, firstly his greeting of peace, and secondly his enabling gift of the Holy Spirit, gifts that are then inherited by all believers.
In our mixed-up world at the moment we are transfixed by the “R” number. This is the reproductive number of the Covid 19 virus and we are constantly being told that we must get it to be as near to zero as possible. If it is above one the virus will do what viruses want to do, that is to spread and infect as many people as possible. If “R” is below one and hopefully near zero the virus will in time naturally die out and will leave us in peace.
Now consider the “E” number – The Evangelization Number. What would have happened if those early disciples had kept the Gospel of the incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection to themselves. Well if they had each only told one person, Christianity would have been a minor religious sect in the Middle-East. However, as we know the Spirit that Jesus gave to those disciples gave them such enthusiasm, that the Gospel spread like a disease. Like a disease, the powers of the state and religion tried their hardest to destroy it by any means possible and Christians were made scapegoats for any and all of the worlds problems. The power of the Spirit was such however that those early Christians were prepared to sacrifice everything to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.
Let us hope that when this dreadful Covid 19 had been controlled by getting the “R” number down to near zero and hopefully a vaccine will come to protect us from future outbreaks. Then we as a church can really work on our “E” number and spread the Gospel with the courage and enthusiasm of those first disciples. Remember that you are Christ's disciples now – we have our part to play by staying self-isolated to reduce the “R” number and when we have opportunity to increase the “E” number.
One of the side effects of Covid 19 is that it can put strain on peoples' mental health, which might have been illustrated by President Trump's proclamation about the use of bleach and disinfectant this week.
This was sent to me this week, which purports to have come from the pen of Pam Ayres. I have not verified that, but it is funny.
At last we have a cure for all!
Ailments large and small,
Good health is not beyond my reach,
If I inject myself with bleach.
Radiant, I'll prance along,
Every trace of limescale gone
With disinfectant my friend,
I'm clean round the bend.
And remember do not take anything Donald Trump says too seriously – he might be suffering.