Did you ever read a portion of the Bible, maybe even something you have read many times before, and been stopped in your tracks by it? That happened to me this morning.
While waiting for my breakfast partner to arrive for our customary Sunday morning meeting, I was reading in my Spanish Bible, which makes me think a little differently. I was in John 20, a place I chose because, well, my Bible fell open there.
You might recall the passage. Jesus has risen from the dead, his followers are huddling together in fear behind locked doors, and Jesus just pops in among them. Apparently, he came through the wall or something. But that's for another conversation.
After greeting them, he turns their world upside down:
"So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'
"And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
"So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send 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, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained" (John 20:19-23).
Now, I've read this perhaps a hundred times, and maybe you have, too. It's a life-changing passage to anyone who takes it seriously. I have taught for years about Jesus sending his followers - I'm one - in the same manner as the Father sent him. If you take that seriously, the implications are profound.
But this morning I was more focused on the context - right after the resurrection and in a locked room - and on the last statement.
Especially the last statement: If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven in heaven, and if you don't they are not.
Think back to the Gospels for a moment, and consider what it was that got Jesus in the deepest trouble the fastest. Got it? Yup: He forgave sins. Remember what they said? That's right: Only God could forgive sins. So in granting forgiveness, Jesus was - in the eyes of onlookers - claiming equality with God.
And now? Now he tells his people that they have the authority to forgive or retain sins. They - we - are given an authority that belongs only to God.
Is your boat rocking yet? Where do I get off, claiming I can forgive - or not - someone's sins?
It's important, I think, to keep this statement together with the one immediately before it: Receive the Holy Spirit. It's important to consider this entire matter in the greatest humility, carefully avoiding arrogance.
This reintroduces the ignored member of the trinity, the one essential to living the life to which God calls his people. We can only act and speak as those sent by Jesus, as those entrusted with the message of reconciliation, those with the authority to forgive, through the active, present power of the Spirit of God in us.
It's time, it seems to me, to rethink some things.