The Day of Pentecost

by Crossings

The Peace and Joy of Pentecost
John 20:19-23 and John 7:37-39
(The Day of Pentecost)
analysis by Michael Hoy

NOTE: The Day of Pentecost provides us with two gospel readings, and both are too good to pass up on-good enough to pass on. So what follows are two programming of the pericopes-one on peace, the other on joy (they belong together this Pentecost!)


19When 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 Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”


Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Fearing
This is the second time we revisit this text, or a portion of it. We first saw it on the Second Sunday of Easter. But this shortened version keeps the focus on the fear of the disciples behind locked doors, and the stifled air that they must now breathe, “for fear of the Jews.” Locking doors is common today, too-to keep others out. And the truth is there may be some good, “secure” reasons for doing that. But the security of the Law does not guarantee our freedom. It locks us in, to fear.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Locked hearts
Fear begets mistrust-of others, and also of God. Our hearts are walled off from the outside. We may not see that at first. But in the shallowness of our thinning air, our hearts are on a course for thinning blood. Little life is afforded for the world, because there is so little life in us.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Locked-in (retained)
Jesus speaks of “retaining” sins, and such retaining as a practice of the faithful in locking people in to their place. It sounds cold-as cold as the small room we have found ourselves in (or, more likely, are unaware of how cold and dark our room really is, but still know a cold shoulder when we get it). The truth in that word is that God is giving the cold shoulder-as part and parcel of his judgment on our closed-off, walled-off existence.


Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Jesus’ Breath of Fresh Air
What we need is word beyond judgment, a word that brings fresh air into our stifled hallways. Jesus’ breath of fresh air comes inside the locked vicinity of our world and speaks renewal for us all: “Peace be with you.” That peace comes with a price tag; hence, the death marks of his having to enter our airless death and grave. But he has come through, and now shows the marks as victory signs, and these breathe new life into our flagging bodies.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Receiving the Spirit
What Jesus further pours into us (this Pentecost, and every inspiring day though his inspiring Gospel) is the life-giving Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This Breath of life, this ruach elohim, will sustain us each day with vim and vigor, to breathe again, to trust again, that God is not against us, but for us, breathing in our very beings, breathing in our faithfulness.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Forgiving sins
And faithfulness comes out in the following through of crashing down the doors, forgiving sins (the final installment of Jesus’ breath of fresh air!). To be sure, there is also the word about retaining. That is not the Word’s major, only the Word’s minor-and with the purpose of helping people to see how fresh the air can get. But forgiveness is the full promise that provides a lasting security for a world gasping for the air.


37On the last day of the festival of Booths, the great day, while Jesus was standing in the temple, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

DIAGNOSIS: Depressed (pressed down)

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Living in danger
To appreciate these few short verses for all their theological helpfulness, it helps to take in the whole of chapter 7. Verse 13 also recalls “the fear of the Jews” which was dominant in the text from John 20, but throughout chapter 7 one gets a sense that there is more than religious authorities to fear-there are the secular forces of armed guards and a real threat of danger and death. Judea was a dangerous place for Jesus and his followers to be, and at a later time they would balk about going back (cf. 11: 8). But even this chapter suggests that Jesus knew the danger of the times (7:1).

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Dry lips (not risking)
While Jesus’ lips are not dry (see below), ours would tend to be. We would do all that we can to stay away from the danger zones, and keep our mouths shut. But mouths that are not speaking words are signs of a problem deeper in our being-our unwillingness to risk. One may speak to make themselves look better or greater, “seeking their own glory” (7:18), but that too, like not taking any chances, is our unfaith.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Damned
The only time in chapter 7 that the word “damned” is used in on the lips of the Pharisees-and that in reference to the “crowd” as so judged by the Law(v. 49). That condemnation has a fuller ring to it, however, even more than the Pharisees intended. All are damned to the dry lips of God that will not speak to us, or for us.


Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Jesus’ Speaking Out for us
Jesus, however, refuses to be silent-or silenced. He continues to speak out his Word of promise. And even when the clear-and-present-dangers of the “authorities” (acting even of the Law’s behalf) get their way, even then his cross will speak volumes. Those who were condemned under the law and now set free by the flowing Word of Jesus the Christ. So on this “last and great day” of festival, with the pouring of the water-libation, Jesus lets his river of promise pour out upon the people.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Flowing rivers of living water
Scholars struggle with the 38th verse, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Is this really in reference to Jesus or in reference to the believer? Answer: both! To be sure, this promise emanates at its source from Jesus’ life-giving water. But it also now flows in the hearts of believers, so that in faith there is never a dry well, nor ever a parched lip. Believers, too, flow with the promise! Their hearts get to rejoice in the water that has been poured on their parched land.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Speaking up!
That flowing leads to the believers now being free to speak up and speak out. Nicodemus got his first taste of Jesus’ living water earlier (chapter 3), and lo and behold even he dares a word into the forum of a clear-and-present-danger in this chapter (vs. 50-51). He would get rebuked. But that comes with the territory. The promise of Jesus’ river of joy, however, is that it cannot be shut-off. Borrowing from a stanza of a lively hymn, our own song may also be this: “flow, river, flow, flood the nations with love and mercy” (With One Voice, #651). Joy abounds!


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