When 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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name
If you have read me before you will know I am a helpless digger into etymological meanings. I just can’t help myself.
I have always been amazed by this resurrected Jesus who, when he comes to the disciples, isn’t thwarted by the fearfully locked doors.
Coming to the passage again, I decided to check out the Greek text referring to the locked door. What I discovered was wonderful.
First I read that the Greek word for closed is “kleiso”. As I stared at the screen and pronounced the word to myself, it sounded so familiar. “Kleiso”
There they were. The called ones, the disciples of Jesus, suffering post-traumatic stress to be sure, locked away, behind kleisoed doors. John’s anti-semitic editorialising doesn’t really help either. “For fear of the Jews”, isn’t helpful because it wasn’t “the Jews” that had been the problem, it was the religio-political elite that had. What Borg and Crossan in “The Last Week” call the systems of dominance and oppression. “The Jews” suffered under these systems too.
So here John presents us with a closed room containing a closed communitity. “Kleiso”, closed by their fear.
It reminds me of the modern church.
Fearful of everthing.
Only now it isn’t “the Jews” of John. Ironically the modern church is ghettoed by our fears of “Muslims”, and “Gays” and “Abortionist baby killers”. Closed rooms, closseted disciples, closed minds. It is dreadful what fear will do to disciples.
As I mused, I got to thinking about how gay and lesbian people talk about “coming out“. Escaping from the closet of fear, and experiencing the freedom of that emergence.
I remembered a book by Karl Popper I had read at University. It was titled, “The Open Society” and I mourned that the church seems always to be the opposite, “The Closed Society”, overcome with fear. Popper in The Open Society, examined the emergence of Democracy from Hellenistic to modern times.
It was then that I realised why “kleiso” the Greek word for closed, had niggled me. It sounded so like another Greek word that is common in church usage. “Kleiso” is linked etymologically to “Ecclesia”, the Greek word that came to describe the church!
The Ecclesia (literally translated “not closed”) was “The Open Society” of Greek democracy. Not closed, unsealed, outed and free. The ecclesia was one of Greek society’s greatest gifts to the modern world. It was a concept that celebrated freedom from systems of dominance and oppression. How wonderful that the Church mothers and fathers chose Ecclesia- not closed, to describe the community of Jesus’ early followers. In this upper room encounter it was clear that the tomb busting resurrected saviour was not to be cocooned by fear, and neither were the disciples to be.
That must be why Jesus breathed his life giving spirit-breath onto,(or was it into) them. It is as if he was saying to them “You are not to remain ‘kleiso’ you are ‘ecclesia’. Come out!”
So I continue to be bemused.
I wonder if the ghettoed suspicious fearful church of 2012 can still feel the resurrection breath on our cheeks. I have no doubt that the risen Jesus is still breathing on us. He isn’t stopped by closed doors. That isn’t the challenge to ecclesia. It isn’t the doors as much as it is the closed minds and hearts that keep us in bondage.
“Breathe on us breath of God”