The doors were closed in the room where the disciples were. They had closed them themselves.
But with John’s gospel, words often mean more than they immediately suggest.
What were closed were the doors of their hearts and of their minds. They had locked themselves in. They had locked each other in. Each one’s collapse in faith confirmed the others in their disbelief: Sadly: whose sins you retain they are retained.
That is what our cultures do. We chatter endlessly about freedom, and don’t ask what freedom is for. We champion quality of life, and don’t accept the consequences of genuinely respecting life.
It is so easy to lock up the minds and hearts of each other – to confirm our common blindness, our common hardness of heart. That is what the disciples were doing to each other.
But then. Jesus came and stood among them. The Jesus who had died alone, betrayed, denied, deserted by them.
He greeted them: Shalom! Peace be with you. It was the familiar Jewish greeting, but with John, again, words can mean more than they immediately suggest.
What did Jesus’ greeting mean to these disciples who had lost faith? It meant acceptance, forgiveness, continuing friendship.
They hadn’t first converted, repented or been sorry. Jesus took the initiative. Jesus offered them acceptance, forgiveness and friendship while they were still drowning in their faithlessness, in their sin… While they were imprisoning themselves, and each other, in their emptiness and despair, Jesus offered them love, mercy – (they mean the same thing).
We have come to learn that this is not surprising: if love is not unconditional, it is not yet real love; if mercy does not reach out first to sin – un repented sin -it is not real mercy. Indeed, only if mercy reaches out to unrepented sin can genuine repentance be possible. Remorse, regret, fear of punishment, fear of hell, can be there, but not genuine repentance.
We have come to believe that God really loves. Jesus has shown us in himself what true mercy is.
Our song can be that of the psalmist today:
Let the sons of Israel say: His love has no end. Let the sons of Aaron say: His love has no end. Let those who fear the Lord say: His love has no end.
As the disciples allowed the Spirit of Jesus to wash over them, to sink into them … as they let themselves be loved, let themselves receive mercy, they unlocked, as it were, the doors of the room where they were.
John went on: Jesus, the merciful, accepting, forgiving Jesus, breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit (receive my Spirit…become merciful like me). For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Set each other free through your mutual love and through your constant readiness to show mercy first.
Indeed, Jesus also said: As the Father sent me, I now send you. I send you into the world to set it free to love.
But, as he had warned earlier, before the world ridiculed and crucified him, the world doesn’t value mercy, the world doesn’t trust mercy. It may not mind if we love one another,- but don’t let us try to suggest love as a governing value for the world at large! Even our own nation refuses to welcome our nearest neighbours seeking asylum from persecution and injustice.
So much for mercy!
Can we listen to Jesus, allow ourselves to absorb his Spirit (that he wishes so much to breathe on us),and accept our mission of mercy to our world?