|Janet Blakeley ARCWP|
If we were asked to describe Pentecost, it would probably be in terms of these strange phenomena that happened – the loud wind, an ability to speak in other languages, and of course the flames of fire that came to rest on the disciples’ heads. Don’t forget that Jesus must have walked through a wall in order to be in their midst. And of course the holy Spirit was received that day.
So it was surprising and odd to read the familiar Gospel and come to the last sentence of Jesus:
“If you forgive anyone’s sins they are forgiven. If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”
What was that doing there?! A little research showed that the sentence was there from the earliest texts, so although it seems like an add on, it must belong there.
My prayer was to know what of this Gospel God would like to highlight and, by the way, what was that last sentence doing there?
God has an efficient way of communicating with me. A picture is worth a thousand words, I see pictures. In this case, I was shown Jesus, who is recognizable by his rather full, brown robe, seen from the side looking at a man – only this man was smaller than Jesus and shrinking fast! He was twisting and turning, trying to avoid the gaze of Jesus because clearly he felt guilty about something. Jesus just stood there, unmoving, but his eyes sent out love, and his stance was welcoming. The little man continued to avoid looking at Jesus, and yet it seemed he had put himself there on purpose. The man twisted and Jesus stood there, his robe puffing up as he seemed to fill even more with love.
How or when it happened I don’t know, but suddenly the man was being embraced by Jesus who was nearly bursting with love, and the man was full-sized again and happy! It seemed as if they hadn’t seen each other for a long, long time, and were thrilled to be together again!
Where was the guilt? Where was the sin that caused this man to be afraid? It was gone from one instant to the next! It no longer existed! In fact, it seemed that for Jesus it never existed!
Then I understood that God’s love for people is the totality of what God offers us. We may hesitate to approach God… but GOD IS unchanging love toward us. In fact, when we allow ourselves to receive God’s embrace, there is no sin or sorrow remaining. It vanishes the instant we fall into God’s arms and receive the love. That’s what Jesus is offering on Pentecost. His desire is that we receive it and administer it – pass it on.
I do not believe for one minute that, with these words, Jesus is ordaining the disciples and empowering them and later disciples to hear confessions and give absolution. And I do not believe that when one person refuses to forgive another for all eternity that the person is condemned to remain unforgiven. What I do believe is that Jesus is telling the disciples and us – that we may either forgive people and allow God’s love to flow freely through us, or refuse to forgive and block the flow of God’s love.
The impact of this is not only on the individuals involved – its impact reaches into eternity. If God’s long-range plan is for a kin-dom, and this is the way it is to be built, then we put up a roadblock to the progress of God’s plan. With these last words of today’s Gospel, Jesus is giving us the means to make the kin-dom come – or not.
Now – having seen the sadness of a penitent vanish the moment he fell into the arms of Jesus, I wonder if it’s even correct to say that God forgives. Because at no time is there a pause in love us. God never withholds, love or sets requirements. Those are human maneuvers, not godly, because by nature, God is merciful – all the time.
Even though Jesus knew that human egos have the power to withhold love, he entrusted us with his own loving Spirit. This was the paramount gift Jesus gave us. It has raised us to a new level of being. It has included us in the work of God. It is gift and responsibility.
Now we see that all the happenings of Pentecost were attention-getters. Like the blast of trumpets announcing the arrival of a dignitary, they heralded the coming of the Spirit. Now we see that the last sentence of the Gospel was not just an add-on: It was the whole point of Pentecost! Forgive and the world will grow and evolve in God’s love. Withhold forgiveness and the world will remain bogged down in its own unhappiness.
Oh God – make us quick to see where, when and why we block your loving spirit and thereby slow down the progress of creation to its completion in you. When we find it hard to forgive, help our egos to step aside and allow your spirit to do the forgiving from within us.
We are the cup.
You are the wine.