This past Sunday, in churches throughout the land, the lectionary story within John 20:19-31 was told.
This story tells us that on the evening of the “first day,” many of Jesus’ disciples were meeting behind a locked door “for fear of the Jews.”(These last five words have been tragically generalized to include all Jews for all time, whereas those (Jews and non-Jews
alike) who were involved in the crucifixion of Jesus were a very specific historical group.)
Suddenly, the resurrected Jesus stood among them. The very first thing he said was “Peace be with you.” The very next thing he said was “Peace be with you.”Shortly thereafter, he again said:Peace be with you. (There is a “three-times” rule in mediation circles –
whatever is repeated three times is especially worth noting.)
The great rabboni (“teacher” – see John 20:16) did not just leave it like that.Jesus then taught them how to achieve this peace.In John 20:21, he said:As the Father has sent me, so I send you.This has been interpreted to mean that peace is not just an internal affair.Just as God sent Jesus to teach peace to the disciples, Jesus was now sending the disciples to share peace with the larger community.Immediately afterwards, Jesus breathed on them (as God breathed Spirit into Adam) and said:Receive the Holy Spirit.Peace, therefore, seems integrally related to the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ instructions then became very specific.He could have explained any number of peace-generating
“techniques” at this point, but he only chose one.It therefore seems as if this one is foremost – and perhaps even all-inclusive:If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
This one great dictum is the foundation of restorative justice.Rather than focusing upon “an eye for an eye,”
restorative justice instead focuses upon forgiveness. Victims and perpetrators are safely and volitionally
brought together within a structured environment in order to better understand - and perhaps to eventually
forgive – one another and/or themselves. A recent program on the Oprah Winfrey Network told the story of a woman whose son was killed by the recklessness of an intoxicated driver.Seven years after this lethal accident occurred, a first-time meeting was arranged between the mother and the driver.An extremely skillful facilitator had assisted both to ready themselves for this arduous event. Both agreed to meet in order to begin the long – but crucial – journey of forgiveness.
Why forgiveness?Why not the more common path of anger, hatred – and often vengeance?
It concerns liberation – not only from Pharaohs and terrorists – but mostly from the chains of our own making.As Jesus said:If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.Not only do you then carry the burden of your own sins, but you also carry the burden of those that you tenaciously collect from others.