The symbols in today’s Gospel teach us about God’s mercy. God uses the language of Creation and Human Life to help us perceive the significance of His mercy. Jesus first gives peace to the disciples to counteract their sorrow and fear. Then as He breathes on them and invokes the gift of the Holy Spirit, we recall the first act of Creation, wherein God breathes into the nostrils of Adam and causes him to become a living being. We understand now, that this life was forfeited with sin and that new life becomes possible by receiving new breath, a new Spirit. We are recreated by the spirit: God’s mercy and forgiveness are not simply about letting bygones be bygones, it is the infusion of new life.
The Apostles are not sent into the world as some kind of militant soldiers. They are sent as “sons.” Their primary mission is not to transform the world by their actions, but by their breath. They are to breathe forgiveness and new life on those whose lives have been broken by sin, just as Jesus has breathed this mercy into them. Jesus performs this sacred duty, not as the representative of some higher power, but as the only Son of our Heavenly Father.
The extent of their terror and the disquiet caused by such an atrocity had simultaneously locked the house and the hearts of the disciples and had so completely prevented light from having any access that for their senses, overwhelmed more and more by grief, the murkiness of night increased and became more pervasive. No darkness of night can be compared with the gloom of grief and fear because they are incapable of being tempered by any light of either consolation or counsel.1
What does this repetition in bestowing peace mean, except that he wants the tranquility that he had announced to their minds individually also to be kept collectively among them by granting peace repeatedly? He knew, at any rate, that they were going to have far from insignificant struggles in the future stemming from his delay, with one boasting that he had persevered in faith and another in grief because he had doubted. … Peter denies, John flees, Thomas doubts, all forsake him: unless Christ had granted forgiveness for these transgressions by his peace, even Peter, who was the first in rank of all of them, would have been considered inferior and undeserving of his subsequent elevation to the primacy.2
The mention of his having been sent does not diminish him as Son but declares that what he wants to be understood here is not the power of the one who sends but the charity of the one who has been sent. This is why he says, “Just as the Father,” not the Lord, “has sent me, so I send you.” In other words, I send you no longer with the authority of a Master but with all the affection of someone who loves you. I send you to endure hunger, to suffer the burden of chains, to the squalor of prison, to bear all kinds of punishments and to undergo bitter death for all: all of which charity, and not power, enjoins on human minds.3
CYRIL OF JERUSALEM:
This was the second time he breathed on human beings—his first breath having been stifled through willful sins. … But though he bestowed his grace then, he was to lavish it yet more bountifully. And he says to them, I am ready to give it even now, but the vessel cannot yet hold it. For awhile therefore receive as much grace as you can bear. And look forward for yet more. “But stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” Receive it in part now. Then, you shall wear it in its fullness. For the one who receives often possesses only a part of the gift. But the one who is clothed is completely enfolded by his robe.4
- SERMON 84.2. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 356). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 84.5. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 360). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 84.6. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 360). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CATECHETICAL LECTURES 17.12. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 361). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.