Text Study for John 20:19-31 (Pt. 2); 2 Easter B

1b. the first appearance of Jesus to the twelve (minus one) in John 20:19-23.

On the second Sunday of Easter, Thomas draws the majority of homiletical energy and attention. That is unfortunate, since the preceding verses are really a climactic focus of John’s gospel. Therefore, we will spend a second post on these critical and tightly packed verses.

In her 2005 article, “Touching the Risen Jesus,” Sandra Schneiders suggests that these verses are the center of John’s resurrection/ascension story. She proposes that “the [post-resurrection] appearances in John are not primarily about Jesus’ postdeath experience but about his disciples’ experience of his return to them” (2005, page 18). In other words, the gospel writer wants us to focus on the responses of Mary Magdalene, the eleven disciples, and Thomas, in order to interpret our own responses to the glorified and risen Jesus among us.

Schneiders observes that in John, when we deal with Jesus pre-Easter, we deal with him in his mortal flesh. Post-Easter, we deal with Jesus in his “immortal” body. Our dealings with Jesus are not to be compared as better or worse. Instead, the problem is responding to the post-Easter Jesus with a pre-Easter worldview and expectations. We will see this problem worked out in four different ways in John 20 – Peter and the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, the Eleven, and Thomas. In each case, it is important to bear in mind the pre-Easter/post-Easter distinction (and to remember that, of course, we come to Jesus always post-Easter).

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Resurrection is the culminating “sign” in John’s gospel. In this gospel, signs always provoke a dual response. Some “believe”, and some don’t. Some don’t believe at first and only come to belief later, after further experience. The gospel is written to provoke the same crisis, the same point of discernment and decision for us as readers that it provoked for the first witnesses to the resurrection. For example, Mary Magdalene begins by seeing the empty tomb as nothing more than evidence of grave robbery. This could be where the conversation ends.

Peter and the Beloved Disciple actually enter the tomb for a look. The orderly arrangement of the burial cloths seems to rule out grave robbery. Peter does not respond well. The Beloved Disciple, according to Schneiders, “believed what Jesus had repeatedly said of his death…namely, that by it he would be glorified” (2005, page 24). The Beloved Disciples, on his first viewing, believes that Jesus has been glorified but does not understand that he has been raised from the dead. What the Beloved Disciple does not yet understand is that Jesus is both crucified and risen, both glorified and resurrected.

Schneiders notes that the Eleven will face the resurrected Lord Jesus in their midst. “Behind the Greek esthe eis to meson (literally, Jesus “stood into the midst” of the community) stands the Aramaic verb for ‘rise up’,” Schneiders writes, “which can refer either to standing up physically or rising from the dead” (2005, page 25). They now face both the empty tomb and the risen Jesus in their midst.

Jesus sends the disciples into their mission and equips them with the Holy Spirit for the task. He does this by breathing it “into” them. The Greek verb is specific in the directionality of the breathing. John’s gospel uses the same verb that the Septuagint uses to translate Genesis 2:7. In that verse, God breathes into the first human being the “breath of life.” Once again, we are invited to connect the original Creation and the New Creation.

One element of the baptismal rite in the Eastern Church instructs the priest to breathe into the face of the baptized. This is a conscious imitation of the encounter here in John 20. It’s an element that I wish now we included in our own practice. While we use the laying on of hands to remember our own endowment with the Spirit, this “breathing into” is such a profound physical reminder that baptism is the gift of New Life in Christ.

It is the Spirit that makes possible the faith which sees the crucified and resurrected Christ in and through the community. “What the Spirit does,” writes Craig Koester, “is disclose the presence of the risen and unseen Christ to believers” (page 73).

Schneiders refers to the passage as John’s version of the Great Commission. In this sending, Schneiders writes, “as the Father had poured forth the fullness of the Spirit on Jesus to identify and empower him as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, so Jesus now breathes into his disciples that same Holy Spirit to re-create them as the new Israel, the community of reconciliation, which replaces scapegoating violence with forgiveness” (2011, pages 24-25).

We should be clear to whom Jesus addresses these words. He appears to and speaks to “the disciples.” This is not limited to The Twelve or to any smaller fraction of that group. The writer of John’s gospel is able to identify The Twelve when that is an important item. But we should not assume that “the disciples” is limited to that group.

“’Disciple’ in John is an inclusive term,” Sandra Schneiders writes. “The community of the Fourth Gospel clearly includes Jews, Samaritans, and gentiles, women and men, known members of the Twelve and many who are not in that group, married and single people, itinerants and householders. In other words,” she concludes, “the great commission of the risen Jesus, in John, is given to the whole church, who will be, henceforth, Jesus’ real presence in the world” (2011, page 26).

The central part of Jesus’ commission to this inclusive community has to do with the healing and wholeness of forgiveness. Sandra Schneiders proposes that John 20:19-23 forms an inclusio with John 1:29, where John the Witness points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus has expelled the “Ruler of this world” and the power of sin to conquer. The disciples are called in this passage to carry out that mission of reconciliation, empowered by the life-giving Holy Spirit of Jesus (see Schneiders, 2011).

John 20:23 requires special attention here. “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” The first “forgive” is a completed past action that is translated as an “historical present.” The sense is, “Whenever you forgive the sins of anyone…” The second “forgive” is a continuing action in the present. Therefore, the action of forgiving has continuing impact in the lives of believers and the life of the community. So far, so good.

The second clause is more challenging. It is translated in most places as “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The problem is that the word for “sins” does not appear in the Greek text of that clause and must therefore be supplied by the translator. Translations reflect, perhaps, a mirroring of similar passages in Matthew’s gospel. Those passages, however, are applied directly to situations of church discipline – an ongoing theme in Matthew’s gospel.

John’s gospel has different concerns. A particular concern is that the community would be “one” and that no one would be “lost.” Sandra Schneiders proposes in a couple of places that the verse should be translated without “sins” in the second clauses since it’s not there in the text. “Assured of [Jesus’] identity and presence and enlivened by his Spirit,” she writes, “the community will forgive sins and hold fast in communion all those whom God will entrust to it…” (2005, page 30, my emphasis).

In other words, verse 23 is not about retaining “sins.” It is about retaining souls, about holding fast to the community in the face of challenge and persecution. “Theologically, and particularly in the context of John’s Gospel, it is hardly conceivable,” Schneiders argues, “that Jesus, sent to take away the sin of the world, commissioned his disciples to perpetuate sin by the refusal of forgiveness or that the retention of sins in some people could reflect the universal reconciliation effected by Jesus” (2011, page 28).

This fits much better with John’s overall theology. God did not send the Son into the cosmos to condemn the cosmos, we remember from chapter 3, but rather that the cosmos might be saved through him. The community is called, therefore, to function, Schneiders concludes, “as Jesus took away the sin of the world…and held fast all those the Father had given him” (2005, page 30).  She expands this conclusion at the end of her 2011 address.

“Just as Jesus received his disciples from the Father and holds them fast in communion with himself despite their weakness and infidelity, so his church will draw into one through baptism those whom Jesus commits to it, and will maintain them in communion through ongoing mutual forgiveness of sins. In that community, feeding on the Lamb who has taken away the sin of the world and freed from all need for sacred violence, whether physical or spiritual, they will live and offer to the world the peace that the world cannot give” (2011, page 29).

Should the preacher spend time unpacking the nuances of Greek grammar to make the case for the alternative translation? No, clearly not. On the other hand, this text has been and can be used as a club of church discipline to exclude rather than embrace “sinners.” It is noted in many church constitutions under the congregational discipline heading, so this is no mere academic interest. I think the preacher should consider at least noting that Jesus’ commission to the church is to retain people rather than sins.

This means that “forgiving” is a way that Resurrection works out in the life of the disciple community. Forgiveness is the embodiment of Easter new life in our relationships with one another. God wants to extend that gift of life to all and to continue to extend that gift of life forever.

References and Resources

Koester, Craig. “Hearing, seeing, and believing in the Gospel of John. https://digitalcommons.luthersem.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=faculty_articles.

Schneiders, Sandra Marie “The Lamb of God and the Forgiveness of Sin(s) in the Fourth Gospel.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 73/1 (January 2011): 1-29.

Schneiders, Sandra M. “Touching the Risen Jesus: Mary Magdalene and Thomas the Twin in John 20.” CTSA Proceedings 60 (2005), 13-25.

Throwback Thursday Books: Forgiveness, Pardon and Reconciliation Distinguished

Current events reveal once again our cultural and theological confusions regarding confession and repentance, forgiveness and pardon, reconciliation and gaslighting. The current rush to reconciliation on the part of some in the wake of the attempted lynching in our nation’s capitol on January 6th is a symptom of this confusion. So, on this Throwback Thursday, I want to share an excerpt from my own book, Forgiveness: The Road Home. You can find that title on my “Books for Sale” page on this site. Or you can go here.

On October 2nd, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV entered a one-room Amish schoolhouse with a nine-millimeter semi-automatic handgun.  He removed all the boys from the building.  After a few students and a teacher escaped to get help, Roberts nailed the doors of the building shut.  During the standoff with police, Roberts shot and killed five of the girls, the oldest of which was thirteen.  He wounded five more before turning the gun on himself. 

While the tragedy was shocking in and of itself, reporters were soon focusing on how the Amish community of Nickel Mines was forgiving the gunman and caring for his family.  The outside world could not comprehend how forgiveness was possible in such a situation.

The authors of Amish Grace explore a number of factors that made such forgiveness possible.  First, they point to “the habit of forgiveness” that forms so much of Amish life and faith.  The capacity to forgive did not spring out of the moment.  It was not manufactured for its public relations value.  The forgiveness the Amish expressed as a natural outgrowth of their life together, their faith in Christ, and their understanding of the Gospel. 

In a very real sense, they had prepared for this moment for the five hundred years of their existence as the Amish faith community.  Miroslav Volf describes the power of a forgiving community this way, referring not to the Amish community but to his own parents: “They forgave because they were part of a community that followed Christ and for whom Scripture wasn’t an old religious book, but the life-shaping word of the living God…Do you want to become a forgiving person?  Seek the company of forgiven forgivers!” (Free of Charge, pages 213-214).

Because the Amish make forgiveness a central part of their Christian walk, they have had to think long and hard about the nature of forgiving itself.  They distinguish between forgiveness, pardon, and reconciliation.  These are related but separate processes.  We often confuse the three in our thinking.  This confusion often then makes it impossible for us to consider any of the three processes.  So, it is worth exploring what might be meant by each of these processes. 

Forgiving is unconditional, or it is not forgiving.  Pardon, in distinction from forgiveness, is completely conditional.  Pardon means that the wrongdoer has been declared free from suffering any discipline or other consequences as a result of his or her actions.  The Amish Christians are very careful about dispensing pardons.  When it comes to breaking civil law, they do not protest the operations of secular law enforcement agencies. 

They may plead for leniency in many cases based on their understanding of forgiveness and their rejection of the pursuit of revenge.  The Amish of Nickel Mines and elsewhere have often visited in prison those who have done wrong by them.  They supported the family of the Nickel Mines gunman.  They do not, however, believe that damaging actions should go without response.

As Jesus hung dying on a cross, the man next to him made a clear confession.  We are worthy of our punishment, he told his colleague in banditry, but this man has done nothing deserving of such a death.  Then he asked Jesus to “remember him” in his kingdom. 

Jesus offers words of pardon in response to that clear and repentant confession— “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  It is interesting that Jesus did not relieve the immediate consequences of the man’s actions.  The man still died for his crimes.  Those crimes, however, did not have a permanent reality.  The man was pardoned.

Pardon requires a clear identification of the wrong done.  It requires an acknowledgement of that wrong on the part of the wrong-doer.  Pardon requires a request on the part of the wrong-doer for forgiveness.  It may still entail real consequences for the wrongs done.  But when those consequences are carried out, the record is wiped clean.  As our Amish sisters and brothers know, pardon is also a process that is most likely to happen in a community where forgiving is a regular practice; a practice deeply seated in the story of God’s forgiving us.

Pardon can only be given if the offending partner seeks it.  The offender must confess her/his wrong(s)—preferably in the presence of a trusted third party so that there is both clarity and accountability.  That confession must be honest and specific.  The offender must express genuine remorse and the desire to repent—to turn away from the offending behavior and the roots of that behavior.  The offender must also be willing to endure whatever reasonable consequences result from the wrongdoing.  All of this can happen more often in a place and among a people who know about being forgiven and forgiving.

Reconciliation is the restoring of the relationship after it has been broken.  None of this erases the wrong that has been done.  The question is, rather, “How do we live in health and hope even though such a wrong has been done?”  Desmond Tutu describes this in profound and passionate words.  “To work for reconciliation is to want to realize God’s dream for humanity—when we will know that we are indeed members of one family, bound together in a delicate network of interdependence” (Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, page 274). 

Reconciliation requires a commitment to a future “beyond me and the moment.”  At some point we will choose the embrace the future or to remain locked in the past.  As forgivers, we will choose at some point to re-narrate our lives to include the offense and the forgiveness, or we will choose to remain locked in the broken narrative where only the offense exists.

Reconciliation is an essential feature of Christian ministry and mission.  Let’s remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21—“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…”

Our ministry of reconciliation is rooted in God’s mission to us.  If we think for a moment, we can see that God has taken the path I am describing here.  “God will forgive; and with that forgiveness,” N. T. Wright says, “God will not only release the world from its burden of guilt but will also, so to speak, release himself from the burden of always having to be angry with a world gone wrong” (N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, page 156).  Even God is released by forgiving!

God’s forgiveness to us is unconditional.  It is an act of pure grace in Christ.  The consequences of our wrongdoing remain and must be pardoned.  This is the “new-making” power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God enters into relationship with us as healed, renewed, and forgiven sinners.  God takes us with utter seriousness but will not allow our sin to destroy the loving relationship between God and us— “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,* not counting their trespasses against them…”

We who are forgiven, pardoned, and reconciled then become missionaries of that reconciling love to a whole world in need of God’s healing.  This is our calling, to be royal representatives of the Lord of Divine Love— “…and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This means we can and must exercise some care in this process of forgiveness, pardon, and reconciliation.  Volf has some powerful words for us here.  “Forgiveness places us on a boundary between enmity and friendship, between exclusion and embrace.  It tears down the wall of hostility that wrongdoing erects, but it doesn’t take us into the territory of friendship.  Should those who forgive stay in this neutral zone?” (Free of Charge, page 188).  At some point a forgiver decides to move out of that neutral zone.  Otherwise, the process of forgiveness, pardon and reconciliation is stillborn. 

Reconciliation is the final destination — not the beginning of the journey.  “Forgiveness between human beings is one crucial step in a larger process,” Volf writes, “whose final goal is the embrace of former enemies in a community of love” (Free of Charge, page 189).  When we read Matthew 18:15-20, we need to back up one paragraph, to verses ten through fourteen.  What you read in those verses may sound familiar.  It is the parable of the one and the ninety-nine.  In Luke we find that parable as one of the three “lost and found” stories, the third of which is the lost son, or the parable of the prodigal.  Matthew places it in the context of conflict and reconciliation.

The punch line of the parable is crystal clear: “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”  This section of Matthew’s gospel is about including all in God’s reign, about seeking and saving the lost, about holding the “little ones” close, about releasing one another from sin and debt.  To use Matthew 18:15-20 as a lever by which we would exclude people from our lives or from our churches is to abuse Scripture for our own purposes. 

Can you hear the words of the father in Luke 15— “my son was lost and is found, was dead and is alive again”?  That is the goal of the forgiving process, that not one of these little ones should be lost.  Forgiving begins the process.  Pardon makes it possible for the offender to accept the gift of forgiving.  Reconciliation means the restoration, to whatever degree possible, of the loving community for which our God creates us, redeems us, and sustains us.

Reconciliation may happen at some point, although it may be incomplete and halting in this life.  There will come a time when the wronged spouse, for example, will need to make a decision.  I have been asked so many times, “When will I ever be able to trust her/him again?”  The short answer is, “When you decide to give that trust.” 

I have no desire to be flippant here.  That decision can only come after long thought and prayer, and after the offender has demonstrated some long-term and good faith changes in behavior.  At some point, however, the person who was wronged will need to decide if reconciliation is prudent and/or desirable.  That decision can be assisted if a trusted third party is called upon to help both partners remain accountable in healthy ways.  Sometimes, however, reconciliation will simply not be possible in this life.  Then the partners must go their separate ways.  Sometimes that is the case in conflicted congregations as well.

What if the other either refuses to forgive or to accept forgiveness?  In church fights, for example, some folks will choose to hang on to their hurts as a way put a roadblock in the way of any move forward in the life of the community.  Wright describes this as “a position of peculiar power…to exercise in perpetuity a veto on the triumph of grace.”  Congregations cannot and should not grant such veto power to anyone. 

If forgiveness is asked for or offered, and the other party can demonstrate no good reason for moving forward, then the community must move forward without them.  This is not a happy time for anyone.  It is a failure in the process and a concession to our still-powerful sinful desires.  But this may be the best that we can do as forgivers if the recipient cannot accept both the exclusion and the embrace, both the judgment and the reconciliation, that forgiving entails.

Let us be clear at this moment.  The community is not excluding those who refuse to participate.  L. Gregory Jones notes that “those unwilling to engage truthfully in this practice exclude themselves form the communal life of those seeking to live ‘in truth.’  Such exclusion, however, ought to be seen only as temporary and always in the context of the hope that those subject to it will return to the fellowship” (Jones, Embodying Forgiveness, page 183).

This refusal to engage in the process must be observed, of course, by other members of the church acting in good faith in steps two and three of the process outlined in Matthew 18:15-20.  Wright gives this council.  “Thus, just as when we offer genuine forgiveness to someone else we are no longer conditioned by the evil that they have done—even if they refuse to accept this forgiveness and so continue in a state of enmity—so when God offers genuine forgiveness to his sinful creatures he is no longer conditioned by the evil they have done, even if they refuse to accept his forgiveness.  Otherwise the grouch, the sulker, the prodigal son’s older brother, occupies the implicit moral high ground forever” (N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, page 141).

“In the act of forgiveness we are declaring our faith in the future of a relationship and in the capacity of the wrongdoer to make a new beginning on a course that will be different from the one that caused us the wrong” (Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, page 273).  Without forgiveness, pardon and reconciliation, I can never truthfully move “beyond me and the moment.”  With forgiveness, pardon and reconciliation, I can re-narrate my story in such a way that truth is told, life is celebrated, and new community is possible.

I conclude that the necessity of prosecuting and penalizing those who attempted a lynching in our nation’s capitol is unquestionable and must move forward.

Throwback Thursday Books: Great Expectations

In Advent I make it a habit to re-read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. In a season of hopes fulfilled by Divine initiative, this is a story of human hopes disappointed. I was first introduced to this crowning Dickens masterpiece as a ninth-grader at the LeMars Junior High School. Margaret Hoorneman was our freshman English teacher. For a whole semester she read aloud to us the misadventures, misperceptions, and misjudgments of one Philip Pirrip, aka “Pip.” I was enchanted by the story, the writing, the language and the pathos. That has not changed in fifty years.

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Years later I learned that the book was much more than a piece of the curriculum for Mrs. Hoorneman. In her retirement, she created a script for a theatrical adaptation of the work. It has been produced in dramatic and cinematic forms, but perhaps not with the passionate love which Mrs. Hoorneman devoted to the work. She was able to secure family and professional assistance in the project. It was developed into a musical that has been performed in a variety of off-Broadway venues. The charming story can be found in an article from the LeMars Daily Sentinel in 2010.

You can find the article here: https://www.lemarssentinel.com/story/1434917.html.

Great Expectations is Dickens’ second to the last completed novel. In it, we find him at his full intellectual and imaginative powers. He relies far less on character names as transparent puns and two-dimensional characters as comic foils (although a few still make their appearances). Dickens had walked some of this plot path earlier, in David Copperfield, his only other “first person” narrative. In Copperfield, the hopes of the protagonist are eventually fulfilled, and they all lived happily ever after. In Great Expectations, the ending is somewhat different and, to my mind, far more compelling.

Of course, that depends on which ending you read. The book was originally serialized in the Dickens-published weekly periodical, All the Year Round. After the original ending was “tested” with the public and the critics, Dickens wrote a second and more “optimistic” ending that can be found in many of the editions. We prefer happy endings to less than happy ones. Dickens was in the business of selling books, and he knew how to respond to his market. But he noted that he preferred the original ending, as did many critics.

I am circumspect in describing the endings because I know that the book is not as widely read as it once was. I hope you will read it, and I don’t want to spoil it for you entirely. In the past week I have listened to the recorded version on Audible.com as narrated by Michael Page. I would recommend that experience if you have about eighteen hours to devote to the listening.

The chapters show the effects of serialization, often leaving the reader hanging on some narrative cliff or another. So it is well-suited to listening in installments. If you want the actual serial experience, discipline yourself to hearing one chapter at a time (for 59 sessions). The book is filled with archaic expressions appropriate to the time. If you are new to the book, I would recommend an annotated edition that can lay out the historical setting and explain some of the most obscure turns of phrase.

Here’s an inexpensive annotated edition: https://www.amazon.com/Great-Expectations-Annotated-Charles-Dickens-ebook/dp/B00GA8DLTI.

Why do I return to it? Certainly, it is a mature and clear-eyed examination of the nature of human hopes, of self-deception, of revenge and regret, of forgiveness and reconciliation. The book offers unblinking views of the trials of class and privilege in nineteenth century England and narrates from a firsthand perspective the pains and prospects of social climbing and social collapse. The book is filled with memorable characters, some of great complexity and none more so than Pip. The artistry is worth the time by itself.

When I was young I found it a revelation of my own hopes and failings. Pip sought to leave his roots and re-invent himself in a new setting. I have traveled that sorry path too many times to count. He never knew how good he had it at home and thus never did find a real home for his heart. Pip was well-schooled in the notion that as he was he was never worthy, so he had to perform a part in order to deserve approval. Pip’s hopes were always wishes to be fulfilled rather than a calling to be answered. Thus, he was almost always profoundly disappointed.

It is a deeply theological book as well. It is, though Dickens certainly did not intend such, a meditation on the theology of the cross. Pip’s salvation always comes from the most unexpected quarters. His rescue is always hidden under the form of its opposite, and he is always looking for grace and love in all the wrong places. The one who most nearly approaches the role of Christ figure in the novel is in many ways one of the least attractive characters. He is one who reminds me of the words from Isaiah 53 — “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

The book is filled, in the final chapters, with affecting scenes of confession and forgiveness. After years of malice and manipulation, several of the main characters come to awareness of their profound brokenness and the havoc they have wreaked in the lives of others. In a few instances, things can be put right and are. In most cases, there is some measure of healing but little opportunity for reparation. Forgiveness may be genuine, but it may not always displace regret in the end.

Great Expectations is a meditation on the nature of personal suffering and the various ways we humans respond to that suffering. Some characters respond to their loss with desires for vengeance and acts of violence. Some are dulled into despair and made dumb in the face of their pain. Some use suffering as a bludgeon or a scalpel to control people and circumstances. And a few are softened by their suffering into a deeper and fuller humanity.

One of the great quotes in the book comes from Estella, the anti-heroine. “And if you could say that to me then,” she murmurs to Pip, “you will not hesitate to say that to me now—now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape.” To be bent and broken but into a better shape — that’s a hope that I can share. I suspect that no other words in the book were closer to Dickens’ own sentiments as he wrote.

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears,” Pip says as he recovers from his own weeping of remorse at another point, “for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.” In the face of the famed British reserve, Dickens pleads for authentic humanity to open us to life and to bind us together across our differences. Confession and repentance can cleanse our hearts. It is a pertinent plea for our time as well.