When Jesus appears to his apostles (John 20:13-23) he says "Peace be with you." With these words, I think we understand something deeper than calming their fears and anxieties. With Jesus' sudden appearance, there is apparently some further hesitation and fear that is somewhat calmed by Jesus showing them his wounds, his marks of identity as their Crucified Lord. At that point, they "rejoice," but then why does Jesus insist on saying again, "Peace be with you"? Isn't it because what they really need the most at that moment is forgiveness? Isn't the kind of peace they need the one set in motion by forgiveness?
The ensuing Pentecostal commissioning would seem to support this. As the Father has sent Jesus with the presence of forgiveness, so now Jesus sends them, with the power of the Holy Spirit: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
What is retaining sins about? Is this an ironic portion of the commissioning that Jesus throws in to make clear their mission is to not be as the unforgiving servant was in the parable of Matthew 18? How could they retain the sins of any after experiencing themselves this utterly gracious presence of Jesus among them as forgiveness? Had they done anything to deserve Jesus' forgiving presence with them at that moment? Had Jesus himself shown any hint of retaining their sin? If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?
I think we could agree that Jesus followers were, to use the vernacular, a “bad hire.” Jesus needed to call his disciples a second time. The first call didn't stick. They all abandoned him at his time of need. Why would he do that? Is this the case of a bad hire? Or is their failure, along with Jesus' forgiveness of it, precisely their main qualification for being hired as apostles?
Most of us would have fired them – “You good-for-nothing, fair-weather friends, you failed me! I never want to see you again! Now that I'm risen I'm going to get myself some new disciples, some real disciples, someone who will follow me through thick and thin.” That's what you and I would have said, right? But not Jesus! No, it's incredible! Not only does he not sack the sorry lot of them; not only does he not return for vengeance; not only does he come instead with peace; but he hires them to go out into the world extending the word of forgiveness to others!! And, some time later, when Jesus goes out to hire the person he wants to take this message of forgiveness to the ends of the earth, he hires Saul, one who is guilty of killing some of Jesus' first messengers. Is Jesus crazy?
No, of course not. He's the Son of God, and so he definitely does things differently from what we would do. To spread a message of forgiveness, he hires not those who appear blameless or somehow most worthy. He hires those who truly know that they themselves have been forgiven.
You and I are called as disciples of Jesus. Why? Because we are somehow better than others? No, the job description for being a disciple of Jesus begins with knowing how wrong you are [Alison's The Joy of Being Wrong], with knowing how much you are forgiven. It begins by recognizing our own guilt and then having the wonderful experience of being forgiven for it. Life can begin anew! There is a joy in being forgiven, and that joy is knowing the life-giving power of being forgiven. (Adapted from Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of John” Audio Tape Series #12)