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2nd Sunday in Easter, Year C

Divine Mercy Sunday 

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...After saying “Peace be with you” again to them, he says these very important words: “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” Now why are those words important? Well, when Jesus says, “As the father has sent me”, he uses the Greek word apostellō (which means “to send”), and we get the word “Apostle” from that Greek verb. So this is so crucial for us to see that part of the Good News of the Resurrection isn’t just that Jesus is back from the dead, but that the power, the authority, and the mission that Jesus himself had from his heavenly father, he is now bestowing on the Apostles (bestowing on the twelve).

Why are they called “Apostles”? Because they are “sent” by Christ. They have (this is so crucial) the authority from Jesus himself. And you’ll see this elsewhere (like in the gospel of Luke) where Jesus will say, “He who hears you, hears me. He who rejects you, rejects me.” That’s really serious. That shows the fullness of the authority that Christ is giving to the Apostles, so that as he sends them out into the world to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth, he sends them out with authority. In fact, the same authority (so-to-speak) that he himself had as the one sent by the Father. In other words, according to the Gospel of John then, Jesus is the original Apostle, because he’s the one sent from the Father. And so when he sends out his Apostles, we can’t treat their authority and their teaching as if, “Well, that’s different than Jesus. It’s not as if Jesus said that, Peter said that” or “It’s not as if Jesus said that, only Matthew said that” – no, no, no, no, no. They have the same authority to come preach the Good News, same power that Christ has from the Father. In fact, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says to the Apostles, “Greater works than I have done, so will you do.” Of course, which must have bowled them over. I mean, what were they thinking when they heard those words (that they would do greater works than Jesus)? So,the Gospel of John here is very clear about the authority of the Apostles.

And in that context (of being sent out), Jesus says these words to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. And if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now, what is this about? This is the foundational text for the power of the sacrament of reconciliation. Notice I said the “power” of the sacrament of reconciliation. While it’s absolutely true here that Jesus does not say, “Here’s how you’re going to hear confession. Now first I want you to sit down, then I want you to tell the person to say ‘Bless me father for I have sinned, it’s been these many days since my last confession’”. He doesn’t give the details of the rite. That’s not in the text. But what he does give is the power that’s in the sacrament, because he says to them, “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven,” and conversely, “if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. Now, in a 1st Century Jewish setting, this is a staggering bestowal of authority, because as we see from elsewhere in the gospels (like in the gospel of Mark), when Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic, they say, “This man speaks blasphemy. Who can forgive sins but God alone?” It’s a divine power. It’s a divine prerogative to forgive sins. And amazingly, now Jesus gives that divine authority and that divine power to the Apostles. And so, it’s very crucial here to stress that in order for them to both forgive and to retain someone’s sins, the implication is that they would somehow know what those sins are. So again, although the act of confessing sin isn’t explicit in the text, it’s implied by the very command given by Jesus to the Apostles, because otherwise, how are they going to know what sins to bind or what sins to forgive? And you’ll see this is going to develop in the early Church (the implications of this power), but is a very, very, very important text...

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