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Monday, April 5, 2010

+ EASTER + TWO, 2 0 1 0 +

Lexegete ™ | Year C | Luke

Second Sunday of Easter • April 11, 2010

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29 (28) or Psalm 150 (6)
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day
O God of life, you reach out to us amid our fears with the wounded hands of your risen Son. By your Spirit's breath revive our faith in your mercy, and strengthen us to be the body of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia. Blessed are those who | have not seen
and yet have come | to believe. Alleluia. (John 20:29)



John 20:19-31 is the first of a series of lessons from the Fourth Gospel during the Easter season of Year C. After Easter 2, on the following Sundays we will read John 21:1-19, John 10:22-30, John 14:8-14, John 13:31-35, John 14:23-29 [or John 5:1- 9], and John 17:20-26. The Easter season is a time for reflecting on the living presence of Christ within the church and on the forms and images which convey that presence.

These texts from the Fourth Gospel are a rich resource for such reflection. For in them relational language is central. Jesus speaks in a revelatory present tense in his “ I AM ” (εγπ ειμι) sayings. From the perspective of the Fourth Gospel it makes no difference that Jesus speaks in this way before his death and resurrection. For the Logos is revealed throughout the gospel as eternally present to those who are willing to see, hear, and believe.

1a. CONTEXT: John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31 is a continuation of the resurrection account of the Fourth Gospel. The pericope falls into three distinct parts. Verses 19-23 tell of Jesus' appearance to the gathered disciples and his commissioning of them. Verses 24-29 deal with the doubt of Thomas. Verses 30-31 form a concluding statement for the whole Gospel, if we assume that at some point the Gospel ended at 20:31, with chapter 21 being added later (Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St John, volume 3, p. 335).

The first scene, 20:19-23, has some partial parallels in the other gospels, particularly in Luke 24:36-49. Certain elements of John 20:19-23 also are paralleled in the commissioning scene of Matthew 28:16- 20, in the secondary ending of Mark 16:14-18, and especially in the Pentecost account of Acts 2. The Fourth Gospel, however, brings together the elements of these appearance and commissioning traditions in a unique way.

The Thomas story in 20:24-29 is uniquely Johannine, both as a story and in its theological import. The coda in 20:30-31 also has no other Gospel parallels. It may have originally been the ending of the Signs Gospel, which many suppose to have been a source document of the Fourth Gospel (Robert Fortna, The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor, pp. 201-204). As such it would not have focused particularly on the resurrection, but on all the mighty signs of Jesus recounted in that Gospel.

The effect of the succession of scenes in John 20:19-31 is to place in striking focus the question of faith raised by the signs, revelatory words, and death and resurrection of Jesus. The narrative moves quickly from the church's reception of the Spirit and authority to forgive and retain sins, to the doubts of those who have not seen Jesus directly, to a final appeal to those who read the Gospel to believe and have life in the name of Jesus.

1b. TEXT: John 20:19-31

ESV Study Bible:
Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 c On the evening d of that day, the first day of the week, e the doors being locked where the disciples were f for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, g “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, h he showed them his hands and his side. Then i the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As j the Father has sent me, k even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he l breathed on them and said to them, m “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 n If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus and Thomas

24 Now o Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, [1] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, p “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. q Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, q “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, r “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, s “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? t Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of This Book

30 u Now Jesus did many other signs v in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 w but these are written so that you may x believe that Jesus is the Christ, y the Son of God, and that by believing z you may have life a in his name.

Translation Notes

[1] 20:24 Greek Didymus

Lettered Notes:

ESV STUDY BIBLE © 2008–2010 Crossway Bibles.


19 Οὔσης οὖν ὀψίας τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ τῇ μιᾷ σαββάτων, καὶ τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων ὅπου ἦσαν οἱ μαθηταὶ διὰ τὸν φόβον τῶν Ἰουδαίων, ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν. 20καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἔδειξεν τὰς χεῖρας καὶ τὴν πλευρὰν αὐτοῖς. ἐχάρησαν οὖν οἱ μαθηταὶ ἰδόντες τὸν κύριον. 21εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς [ὁ Ἰησοῦς] πάλιν, Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν: καθὼς ἀπέσταλκέν με ὁ πατήρ, κἀγὼ πέμπω ὑμᾶς. 22καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐνεφύσησεν καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον: 23ἄν τινων ἀφῆτε τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἀφέωνται αὐτοῖς, ἄν τινων κρατῆτε κεκράτηνται. 24Θωμᾶς δὲ εἷς ἐκ τῶν δώδεκα, ὁ λεγόμενος Δίδυμος, οὐκ ἦν μετ' αὐτῶν ὅτε ἦλθεν Ἰησοῦς. 25ἔλεγον οὖν αὐτῷ οἱ ἄλλοι μαθηταί, Ἑωράκαμεν τὸν κύριον. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἐὰν μὴ ἴδω ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτοῦ τὸν τύπον τῶν ἥλων καὶ βάλω τὸν δάκτυλόν μου εἰς τὸν τύπον τῶν ἥλων καὶ βάλω μου τὴν χεῖρα εἰς τὴν πλευρὰν αὐτοῦ, οὐ μὴ πιστεύσω. 26Καὶ μεθ' ἡμέρας ὀκτὼ πάλιν ἦσαν ἔσω οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ Θωμᾶς μετ' αὐτῶν. ἔρχεται ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων, καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον καὶ εἶπεν, Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν. 27εἶτα λέγει τῷ Θωμᾷ, Φέρε τὸν δάκτυλόν σου ὧδε καὶ ἴδε τὰς χεῖράς μου, καὶ φέρε τὴν χεῖρά σου καὶ βάλε εἰς τὴν πλευράν μου, καὶ μὴ γίνου ἄπιστος ἀλλὰ πιστός. 28ἀπεκρίθη Θωμᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου. 29λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οτι ἑώρακάς με πεπίστευκας; μακάριοι οἱ μὴ ἰδόντες καὶ πιστεύσαντες. 30Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἄλλα σημεῖα ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐνώπιον τῶν μαθητῶν [αὐτοῦ], ἃ οὐκ ἔστιν γεγραμμένα ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τούτῳ: 31ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται ἵνα πιστεύ[ς]ητε ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ἵνα πιστεύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ.

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London

2. ANALYSIS: John 20:19-31

2a. John 20:19-23
This short scene carries a lot of weight in the Fourth Gospel, for it serves to shift the readers' focus from Jesus to the task of the disciples. It takes the form of a commissioning scene, with all the elements that would be expected: the commissioning agent appears, greets the gathered community, and gives signs that confirm his identity; the actual commission is given, with reference to the ultimate commissioner, the Father (see John 17:18); finally, the power to carry out the commission is imparted. An important element of the setting here is that the disciples are gathered behind closed doors, because of fear. This is no incidental comment, for there are a number of hints in the Fourth Gospel that the community being addressed is threatened and in danger of losing its courage (7:13; 9:22; 12:42; 19:38).

Jn. 20:25
In this light, the repeated greeting of peace in 20:19, 21, 26 (ειφρηπνη υθμιν−−∀Peace be with you.") is more than just a conventional greeting. For peace is the gift of Christ that is left behind with the church to overcome fear and instill courage (14:27; 16:33). In verse 20 we read, εφχαπρησαν ου∴ν οιθ μαθηται; ιφδοπντε τον κυπριον--"Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord." The disciples react with joy at their recognition of the one who gives peace (see John 16:22), the one whose hands and side have been pierced and who has faced his hour and been glorified through death and resurrection.

In verse 21 is the commissioning itself. καθω∍ αφπεπσταλκεπν με οθ πατηπρ, καφγω; πεπμπω υθμα`"--"As the Father has sent me, so I send you." This commissioning draws on a major focus of the whole Gospel, in which the sending of Jesus by the Father has been a central motif (see 17:18). The breath of the Holy Spirit is Jesus' new creation of the church (see Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 37:9; Wisdom 15:11; and John 7:39). This is the predicted baptism with the Holy Spirit of John 1:33. The specific task of the commission is spelled out in verse 23: the disciples are to forgive and retain sins (compare Matthew 16:19 and 18:18). They can do so by the authority of Christ, "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)."

2b. John 20:24-29

The Thomas scene brings to a climax a major theme of the Fourth Gospel--the ambiguous relationship between "seeing" and "believing." The first "sign" (σημειον) of Jesus evokes faith (John 2:11), but the cause and effect relationship is not without difficulty (2:18; 2:23; 4:48; 6:30; 7:31; 11:47-48; 12:37). A negative climax of this theme is reached in 12:37: "Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him." In fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, their eyes are blinded (12:40).
This theme of the ambiguous value of sight becomes acute in the narrative of Jesus' resurrection, where repeatedly the disciples "see" the empty tomb or the Lord himself (John 20:8, 18, 20, 25, 29). Thomas himself is led to his climactic confession of faith by his privileged sight of Jesus. Thus he still stands more in the privileged position of the disciples than he does in the situation of the second and third generation of believers. Nevertheless, his confession of faith is the high point of the Fourth Gospel: οθ κυπριοπ μου και; οθ θεο; μου--"My Lord and my God!" This forms an appropriate conclusion to the Gospel that began with the proclamation that "the Word was God (1:1)."

In verse 29 Jesus, as it were, addresses the readers of the Fourth Gospel directly: μακαπριοι οιθ μη; ιφδοπντε και; πιστευπσαντε"--"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to
believe." These are the people of the second and third generations of believers, who see Jesus only through the "signs" written in the Gospel itself (verses 30-31). The ambiguous value of seeing Jesus is really no problem--faith is possible even for those who have not seen Jesus directly.

2c. John 20:30-31

"Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book." These verses at some point served to end the Gospel document. If these words closed the hypothetical "Signs Gospel," then the word σημεια ("signs") referred specifically only to those mighty deeds of Jesus recounted in that document. However, as a concluding statement for the whole Fourth Gospel the words take on a broader reference. In this context they point to all the words and actions of Jesus as contained in the Fourth Gospel. The signs were done "before his disciples," so that the disciples now serve as witnesses of the signs.

Ταυτα δε; γεπγραπται ι{να πιστευπσητε ο{τι φΙησου εφστιν οθ χριστο; οθ υιθο;∀ του θεου`
--"But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God." What was the original purpose of the Fourth Gospel? Was it a missionary document, intended to convince people to believe in Jesus as the Messiah? Or was it intended mainly for use within the community of believers? The debate over this question is sometimes focused on a textual uncertainty in verse 31. Was the original reading the aorist subjunctive πιστευπσητε, which could be translated "so that you may come to believe" ? This reading would tend to support a missionary purpose for the Gospel. Or is the better reading the present subjunctive πιστευπητε, which could be translated "so that you may continue to believe"? This reading would support a community purpose for the Gospel. In fact, the problem cannot be solved on purely textual grounds. One must make the judgment about the Gospel's purpose on the basis of a reading of the whole document. (See Robert Fortna, The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor, pp. 201-204; and Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St John, volume 3, pp. 335-340.) In any case, the stated goal of the Fourth Gospel is faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. To begin and to continue in such faith results in life. Not just staying alive, but life in the name of Jesus, which is eternal life.

3. STRATEGY: John 20:19-31

Although Thomas appears in only one of the three sections of our text, his "conversion" forms the dramatic centerpiece that holds this pericope together. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus can easily be the focus of a sermon on this text. But one should note that the issue for Thomas is not directly the fact of the resurrection. What he does not believe is the statement of the other disciples, "We have seen the Lord." The faith he confesses after his encounter with the risen Jesus is not expressed as, "I believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead." Rather, it is an expression of faith in the identity of Jesus that has now been revealed to him with more certitude, "My Lord and my God." The closing statement in John 20:31 affirms that this faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, is the goal. One does not need to get involved in philosophical debates over the nature of the resurrection and the possibility of accepting it today. What is in doubt for Thomas, and for us today, is the continuing relationship with the living Lord.

One homiletical entry into the story of Thomas is his experience of isolation. Thomas is at first separated from the gathered disciples, and because of this he also experiences the absence of Jesus. The experience of Jesus absence is one current running through the whole Johannine resurrection narrative. Mary Magdalene, the other disciple, and Peter all play a kind of hide-and-seek with the body of Jesus. Even when the living Jesus is found, there are hints that he will soon be absent again (20:17; the implication in 20:21-22 that the commissioning and reception of the Spirit means the departure of Jesus; see 14:25-26; 16:5-7). Thomas' experience of the absence of Jesus is all the more poignant, since the reader knows that others have already been reunited with Jesus and have experienced peace and joy in his presence.

Thomas consequently stands on a trajectory between the experience of the disciples who were with Jesus during his time in the world and those who will come later. His misguided demand to see Jesus, to see the marks in his flesh as the signs of his bodily presence, is a warning to us--faith is not a matter of seeing Jesus. That means, I think, that we are misguided if we seek such props for our faith as the blessings of health and wealth; or an inner voice that gives us guidance in the decisions of life; or the feeling that events are being orchestrated in our favor; or a kind of moral smugness that our political views are the correct ones. All these things are a kind of search for a tangible sign that the Lord is alive and well and working on our behalf.

"Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe." Our experience of the absence of Jesus, which becomes particularly acute in times when doubt threatens to overwhelm trust or when difficult decisions or personal suffering isolate us from peace and joy, is a serious challenge. We do not see Jesus, but we do see the signs of the Lord's living presence. What are those signs? The Johannine resurrection narrative gives us some hints. The word of Jesus, as he spoke it and as it is written in the Gospel is one such sign (20:30; 14:25-26). The gathered community of faith is itself a sign of the living Lord. Jesus does not appear to Thomas by himself, but only in the presence of all the disciples. Here is where peace and joy as gifts of Christ will be experienced. A third sign is the power of the Holy Spirit. This power comes particularly in the forgiveness of sins, received and given (20:23). These signs come as gifts from the living Lord.

Paul reflects on this same tension between Jesus' absence and presence in his words, "For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)." Paul was speaking primarily of experiencing God's power in the midst of human weakness and suffering. The Fourth Gospel speaks primarily of experiencing faith in the midst of alienation, doubt, uncertain identity. To those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, God does grant the gift of signs through which the living Lord Jesus is present. Thomas finally accepts this gift and affirms his faith, and so he becomes one with all those who have life in Jesus' name.

4. REFERENCES: John 20:19-31

Fortna, Robert T. The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988. Schnackenburg, Rudolf. The Gospel According to St John, volume 3. New York: Crossroad, 1987.

Exegete - David Kuck, Ph.D.

A graduate of Yale Divinity School (Old Testament) and Seminex, David is on the faculty of the United Theological College/Seminary on Kingston, Jamaica. See: Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Global-Mission/Where-We-Work/Latin-America-Caribbean/Jamaica.aspx


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