Gospel Reflections

Feast of Pentecost

John 20:19-23

Feast Day Reflection by Sister Marie Andre Mitchell

Published: May 15, 2016


Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, the official and public descent of the Spirit on the disciples gathered together in Jerusalem. All three of today’s Scripture readings examine the activities of the Holy Spirit, but from different points of view.

The Acts of the Apostles describes the descent of the Holy Spirit using imagery taken from the Book of Exodus to depict the descent of God on Mount Sinai. As a result of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers are empowered to proclaim the Good News with vigor and enthusiasm to the different peoples gathered in Jerusalem for the pilgrim feast of Shavuot  (Pentecost). The people heard the preaching in their own languages, certainly a manifestation of the Spirit.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, teaches that each Christian is given different gifts by the Holy Spirit to be used for the good of the community. The Spirit is able to bring a profound unity amid such great diversity.

The Gospel reveals another consequence of the Spirit’s presence. For John the gift of the Spirit which of its nature is invisible flows from the glorification of Jesus, his return to the Father. John’s account of the risen Jesus’ first meeting with the disciples on the evening of  “the first day of the week”  may be regarded as John’s counterpart for the scene described in the first reading (Acts 2:1-11). Jesus’ appearance shows Him not only in His resurrected body - He entered the room through a locked door to be with his frightened disciples - but also in human solidarity, offering peace to His fearful disciples. He greets the disciples with the words “Peace be with you,”  the normal Hebrew greeting, no mention of the fact that they had all deserted Him in His hour of need.  In this situation “Peace be with you”  was no conventional Jewish greeting but had a depth of meaning to those being greeted. It has, therefore, become part of the Church’s liturgical practice.

The repetition of the words “Peace be with you”  in close connection with the commission now given to the disciples recalls that Jesus had bequeathed His peace as a parting gift to his disciples, “My peace I give to you”  (Jn 14:27). It was His peace; Jesus is the bond between God and us and between every human being. “As the Father sent me I am sending you,”  is the great commissioning of the Church parallel to the great commission in Matthew (28:19). The Father’s sending of the Son stands as the model and basis for the Son’s sending of the disciples, that is, of the Christian mission.

Jesus then breathes on His disciples just as God breathed on Adam and gave him the breath of life and he became a living being (Gen 2:7). The same verb for “breathe”  is used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew text (Septuagint). The disciples now become a “new creation”  filled with the Spirit and as the recipients of the Spirit they are given the authority to grant or withhold the forgiveness of sins. What does this profound saying really mean? It does not take away from the fact that it is God alone who can forgive sins. The authority to act in the forgiveness of sins is governed by and conditional upon the gift of the Spirit and the acceptance of Jesus’ commission to share in His mission. The Spirit that Jesus gave to His disciples is not a privilege they must keep to themselves, it must be passed on to others. The forgiveness of sins was always part of Jesus’ own ministry right from the very beginning. Every Christian should act in such a way that it is possible for the Spirit to enter the hearts of all people and it is the presence of the Spirit that brings about the forgiveness of sins. All the followers of Jesus are called to be a healing and reconciling presence in the world.  This is what we, as Christians, are called to be at all times and especially in this “Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.”

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