Jesus Appears to the Disciples
(Lk 24:36–43; 1 Cor 15:5)
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the authorities , Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twinc), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believed that Jesus is the Messiah,e the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
 in the text: Jews; see discussion below.
c Gk Didymus
d Other ancient authorities read may continue to believe
e Or the Christ
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jn 20:19–31.
Thoughts on John 20:19-31
Rather than a sermon tomorrow and the next few Sundays, I will offer several brief reflections on the scripture for the day (as assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary). The comments are intended to generate faithful questions and convåersation. In our Sunday worship group via Zoom, I will be sharing these thoughts and we will discuss them together. Whether or not you join the conversation on Sunday, they should prove helpful in your own reading and study at home.
When I began my career, I was bit of a purist with respect to reading scripture in worship. Even today, I cringe when I hear United Methodist clergy read The Message by Eugene Peterson from the place of preaching. The Message isn’t Scripture; it is a paraphrase of Scripture — a good one — but an interpretation at some distance from the text itself. An earlier example, that I grew up with, was The Living Bible which is also a freely rendered paraphrase (Note, when pressed, this opens another can of worms, as every translation, even a word for word one, is an interpretation).
[Aside: there are commonly two types of translations properly read in worship — these are also typically done by a community of scholars working toward consensus, not an individual (though remarkably good translations are available by individual scholars). These are ‘word for word’ translations from the best texts available in the original languages — KJV, RSV, NRSV — and ‘thought for thought’ — NIV, Good News, The New Living Bible. Single author paraphrases are freely adapted from translations of the original languages. Modern mainstream translations, in particular the NRSV, take care to use gender inclusive language when that is appropriate. For example: “brothers and sisters in Christ,” instead of only “brothers.” Translations from the evangelical Christian tradition (namely the NIV, ESV, and others) take pains to keep traditional Christian readings where the original Hebrew may be ambiguous or carry multiple meanings.
In the course of my career, I have become aware how public reading of the Bible, when done from positions of authority, can do and has done immense harm. In my opinion, texts that could be read as antisemitic, derogatory, or any text that could be taken as advocating violence should not be read in public worship. Criticisms of “Jews,” Pharisees and other groups in the New Testament, are rightly turned inward toward our own faith practices. As one of my teachers said, “You will read the NT rightly, if wherever you see the word Pharisee, insert Presbyterian!” (he was speaking to graduating Presbyterians). We must remember that nearly every follower of Jesus we meet in the NT including its first hearers were members of Judaism. And of course, Jesus was Jewish!
The Gospel of John is a human text. All writing is inevitably shaped — biased — by the limitations, world view, hurts and hopes of its authors. No text is innocent. Most modern scholars agree that at least part of the community to whom this gospel is addressed, including its author(s), had experienced a schism with their fellow jews over their beliefs about Jesus and had been banned from their local synagogue. This wound is fresh in the text at its writing and their resentment is bitter. Should we take this as gospel? No. I believe that we must hold even the text of the bible to account for the gospel of Jesus Christ as our knowledge of the human condition advances. John Wesley would have never criticized or altered the text of Scripture; he would, however, have only consented to an interpretation of it that built up the double love of God and every creature that has breath (which he declared was the intention, ‘scope and tenor’ of the whole).
What questions does this raise for you about scripture, bible translations, or reading the Bible in public worship?
On antisemitism in the New Testament and the Revised Common Lectionary:
The deep tradition of the church — guided by the 4th gospel especially — understands the Word of God to be a living reality, not the dead letter on the page. Jesus Christ of Scripture is the Word made flesh (see John 1).
From the United Methodist Book of Worship: “Our worship in both its diversity and its unity is an encounter with the living God through the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
What does this statement about worship mean to you? In today’s text, how are the disciples encountering the Living Word of God? What is the result? Where or who is the living Word of God in our world today? How do we meet it? How do we know we have met the Word of God and not our own happy feelings or opinions?
Rev. Mark F. Sturgess