The Final, Post-Resurrectional Words of Christ
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
When one is dying, typically the final words of a dying person are among the most cherished. They often will give you a unique perspective into what the dying person values, and what he most wants to pass on as his/her legacy. I know that if I was dying, I would think very carefully about what I wanted to say, and how I would want my children and friends to remember me.
One’s final words. Think about that for a moment.
Well, in today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus share some final words to His closest friends and disciples after His Resurrection and right before His Ascension into heaven. What did Jesus think most important to transmit to His followers during His last days with them? He had limited time – 40 days to be precise, between His resurrection and His ascension – and He wanted to ensure that His sacred mission continued even after He ascended into heaven and left His disciples. So, what did He tell them?
According to today’s Gospel reading in John, we can see six things that Jesus said to His followers. He included several blessings, and then following those blessings with commandments. He wanted His followers to understand that they had His blessing, yet He expected them to continue His work in the world. Blessings come with responsibility. Blessings come with expectations. God doesn’t want us to receive His blessings and then simply sit on them. And interestingly enough, intermixed with His blessing and commands, comes a warning.
Christ’s first post-resurrectional words to His disciples are “Peace be with you.” In fact, three times Jesus blesses His disciples with His peace. They were afraid. They were uncertain. They had seen terrifying events. So our Lord’s first words are to comfort and strengthen them. “Peace be with you.”
The peace of God is something He always promised His followers. Right before His arrest he comforted His disciples, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) Later, He encouraged them, “In Me you have peace. In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Shalom. Eirini. Peace. This deep-rooted sense of God’s presence with us. God is with us, and He is the Source and Giver and Prince of Peace.
Yet, right after Christ offers peace, He then reminds His followers of what He expects. “As the Father has sent me, so now I send you.” Jesus came with the peace of the Father into the world on a divine mission. This mission is what He now passes on to each of us. We have a responsibility to fulfill His divine mission. We have a responsibility to go into the world, into society, into the darkest places of humanity and bring His light and peace.
I do not bless you, Jesus says, so that you can simply keep My blessing for yourself to enjoy. I want you to enjoy my blessing, but the more you seek to share it with others, the more you bring others into my peace and love, the greater you will experience my own blessing. Remember, “To whom much is given, much is required.” I give to each of you, my followers, much. Yet now I expect you to go out, go forth, go into the world, into every part of the world, and share my peace, my love, the good news of my resurrection and victory over death, and my blessing with others.
So, we have the blessing of peace, and then the expectation to be sent out into the world.
Next Jesus offers another blessing. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He promises the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth who will guide us, strengthen us, and empower us. Christ told His followers, “I won’t leave you alone,” but “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
Yet, right after He tells them that they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit, He also commands His followers to be responsible for His flock, to guide others on the straight and narrow path that leads them into the kingdom of heaven. He actually gives them a grave responsibility: “If you forgive the sins of any, I will also forgive them. If you retain the sins of others, I will retain them.” That’s a very heavy burden to place on someone – if you forgive others, I will also forgive them, but if you retain the sins of others, I also will retain them. Of course, no authentic follower of Jesus would carelessly follow this command. It is not a commandment to use as a punishment, but it is something to use wisely and sparingly, for the healing and salvation of another.
In the middle of these blessings and commandments, Jesus then warns His followers, “Do not be unbelieving, but be believing.” Doubt and skepticism, temptations and many questions will arise. The world around us will not nourish our faith but will try to extinguish it. For example, today, we live in a secular society that downplays faith and tries to minimize our faith commitment. Take care, however, to constantly act in a counter-culture way, feeding our faith and striving to continually grow. Be on guard against all that will lead us to unbelief. “Do not be unbelieving but be believing.”
The final blessing that Jesus offers His disciples is this: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet who believe.” We may not see the miracles of Jesus. We have not walked during the time that Christ walked here on earth. For many of us, we have inherited our faith from our parents and have heard the stories of Jesus through the Church and from Holy Scriptures. Have we made our faith a living reality in our lives, have we made our faith truly our own? Do we, can we believe by faith, without seeing? Can we commit our lives completely to following Christ simply by believing and following what the Church, what Holy Scripture, what our Holy Tradition tells us? “Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.”
We could have talked about many things from today’s Gospel story - about Thomas’ belief, or lack of belief, his openness to faith, and his ultimate profession of faith, when he proclaimed Jesus as “My Lord and My God.” Yet today’s Gospel also tells us about the final words of Christ, about the blessings and expectations that Jesus gave to His followers. Let us realize we have received Christ’s blessings, but we also have to live up to His expectations!
The final words of today’s Gospel are also the final words of John’s entire Gospel. The Evangelist says that he wrote all these words for one purpose: for us to believe and have life in His name. St. John the Evangelist, and Jesus Christ Himself, want each of us to accept His final words, His blessings along with His commandments, so that we too may “believe and to have life!”