holy breath of God | John 20.21-23
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
John 20.21-23 | ESV
The disciples stood there, dumbstruck with joy. So Jesus repeated his greeting – “Peace y’all!” – but with special emphasis on the “peace.”
He quickly added, “Abba gave me a job to do, sent me out on assignment – and now I have one for you.”
Then he took a deep breath as they waited. Then he released that deep breath on his circle of friends.
“Breathe in the Holy Breath of God – inhale deeply! Now you are agents of life and forgiveness, breathing into others the empowering grace of God, freeing them from death grip of all their mess of sin and rebellion – but not everyone wants to breathe in the breath of life you offer, preferring to remain right where they are. And so they shall. Let them be. You just keep breathing.” MAV (Mike’s Authorized Version)
“Whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven; whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained.”
Now just try not letting that go to your head! Jesus’ pronouncement sounds foreign to these Protestant ears. This just sounds Catholic-y. Forgiving and retaining sins.
But rather than getting caught up Catholic vs. Protestant comparisons and debates, or lost in imagined scenarios of absolving this person or condemning that one (visions of Harry Potter with his magic wand come to mind), perhaps we need to pause.
Yes, perhaps there’s the key to understanding this entire passage. Jesus breathes on them, he breathes on his circle of friends. And then sends them out to do the same. It is the Holy Breath of God that is breathed into us, which we in turn breathe out on others in a holy, life long exercise of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the world.
It’s just not everyone is ready for the breath.
All lungs don’t share the same receptivity and capacity. All we can do is keep breathing, and let it be. Or, changing the metaphor, all we can do is keep giving off the aroma of Jesus, and let other’s nostrils decide whether to “ahhhhh” or to “ughhhh.” Perhaps there is more here than this Protestant is ready to see – but there is at least this.
The question is: will we continue to breathe?
Or will we persist in holding our breath?
Will we join the parade?
In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 | MSG
In what way or ways do you need to breathe in the holy breath of God today – and pass it on?
Lord, breathe on me – and let your breath not only invigorate me, but let it flow through me to others, bringing newness of life and forgiveness. Through your mercies.