Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Who does the reconciling?
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the May 15, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
It would be a Class A truism to make the observation that our world is in dire need of peace and reconciliation. The quick browse of cable channels, the flip of a newspaper page or a rapid look at a news magazine reminds us all too readily that our world pines for these blessings. From politics to religion, divisions abound, anger pervades, and fists swing.
In the midst of all this cacophony and darkness, have we not heard comments like, “Why does God let all this happen?” Or, “If there is a God, how would he let his children suffer through all this? Wouldn’t he intervene and set things straight?”
Well, the fact is, God has. But not in the way we would expect – or fit our comfort zones.
In John’s Gospel the picture is clear about God’s relationship to a world that chooses to live in the way of self-serving darkness and sin. It’s not that God does not see or care. Quite the contrary. That well-known quote found on billboards and placards at sports events testifies well – John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life. There’s an amazing measure of truth packed into that single verse. Perhaps it captures the totality of God’s relationship toward a broken world.
This theme reverberates throughout the Gospel as pieced together by St. John the Evangelist. His is the Gospel which engaged us just this past Lent and still now as we celebrate the great Easter Feast for 50 days.
St. John’s narration of the Good News reaches a zenith in the Resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples. At a moment when a victorious Jesus returns to his frightened and shattered body of believers – when the world would expect vindication and retribution in return for crucifixion and death – Jesus brings the gift of peace and reconciliation. “Peace be with you!” he announces. Echoing the rich meaning found in the Jewish greeting of shalom (peace), he comes with the blessings of wholeness.
Then the surprising twist. Jesus, the risen Lord, continues: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes on them (reminiscent of the brooding Spirit at creation and certainly a direct reference to God breathing life into a handful of dust) and imparts the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is evangelist John’s verbal portrayal of Pentecost – the gift of renewed life, direction, and purpose for the Church.
And then perhaps the most challenging words Jesus utters in the course of his ministry: “If you forgive people their sins, they are forgiven them. If you retain them, they are retained.”
It is important for our Christian spirituality to recognize that these words are not reserved for a privileged few. In this context, they are not the mere empowering of the apostles (bishops/priests) to hear confessions. The celebration of the Sacrament of Penance may find elements of its Scriptural roots in this scene, but it is important to embrace its full impact of the words of Jesus.
The ministry of reconciliation is given to the entire Church. Each and every follower of Jesus – young and old alike, male and female – is empowered to participate in the far-reaching, re-creating mission of Jesus. In his name and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we disciples are entrusted with both the privilege as well as the responsibility for restoring a broken and sinful world to its original goodness, so that the sons and daughters of God can give form to the dignity with which they were created and relate to one anther from that same dignity.
When the Risen Lord Jesus greets his disciples (his Church) with the blessing “Peace be with you,” it is far more than a gesture of welcome and hospitality. It is a heartfelt prayer. It indeed does reflect the Hebrew blessing of shalom – “may you be whole and grace-filled in yourself, your relationships with your neighbor, and with God.” It is the same greeting and blessing of Jesus for his huddled masses of believers who confront a world which chooses darkness over light, death over life.
Clearly John the evangelist wants us believers to recognize that belief in the Resurrection of Jesus has everything to do with accepting responsibility for continuing his ministry. As the Father has sent the Son, so the Son has sent his Church, with his very authority and power, to engage in a shared mission of peace and reconciliation.
If we believers embrace that privilege, the alienation experienced so extensively in our world – the choices of so many to be embattled and at odds with themselves and one another, thereby defying the goodness of God – will dissolve. In that sense, “sins” will be forgiven. If we ignore the invitation and reject the call of the Spirit– or, more precisely, if we refuse to live as believers and “let someone else do it” – the broken and sinful world will continue in its ways of self-chosen darkness. Its sins will be retained; the brokenness will remain.
God indeed does have a plan for the world – that it be a place of peace, integrity, wholeness, goodness, and grace. God’s will (Word) for us has become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. As Risen Lord, he invites us into communion with him in incarnating that very same plan in our daily lives – from households to marketplace, to school, and even sports center. Jesus has given us believers the authority – and the power – to act in his name. If the world around us – especially that part of the world under the sphere of our direct influence – remains in a mess of brokenness and alienation, how can we say that God does not care or beg that a mighty God intervene? Could not the Risen One readily say, “Who does the reconciling around here?”
(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa, and serves the diocese as Moderator of the Curia.)
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