REFLECTING ON THE WORD
After the dramatic events of the descent of the Holy Spirit recounted in the first reading from Acts of the Apostles proclaimed at the Pentecost Mass during the day, the gospel might seem somewhat anti-climactic. In contrast to the strong driving wind, the tongues of fire and miraculous way in which the many nations gathered in Jerusalem are able to understand the message of the apostles in their own tongues, the appearance of Jesus is quiet, subdued and almost contemplative in its tone.
But every detail of this very short passage is worth paying attention to, pondering and savoring.
The evangelist John begins by telling us that Jesus, after appearing in the midst of the apostles hidden away in the upper room, says simply, “Peace be with you.” Then he shows them his wounded hands and the disciples respond with rejoicing. Again he says, “Peace be with you.” But then he adds these words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” It is only after commissioning them to take up the mission for which the Father sent Jesus, that he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus concludes with these profound yet perplexing words: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained.”
It would be a mistake, I think, to try and harmonize the two accounts of the giving of the Holy Spirit. I’m reminded of this passage from the First Book of Kings, in which the prophet Elijah is commanded to stand before the Lord on the mountain Horeb in anticipation that the LORD is about the pass by. But unlike the experience of Moses and Israel on the holy mountain (commemorated in the Jewish feast of Shavuos or Pentecost, fifty days after Passover), the LORD is not revealed in thunder and lighting, earthquakes and the blast of the shofar. Instead, it is only in the silence after all of these signs that the prophet is able to hear the “still, small voice” of the Lord.
Similarly, in our gospel, Jesus reveals himself to the disciples in small, human actions and gestures: the greeting of peace; showing them his hands and side; breathing on them, and a few simple words of instruction. In a gentle, yet decisive way, Jesus does something profound, he recreates them in and through the Holy Spirit.
Just as in the beginning God breathed the breath of life into the man he had fashioned from the earth, Jesus breathed the new life of the Holy Spirit into those he had chosen as sons and heirs. And as sons and heirs, the disciples shared in the mission of the Son, sent to reconcile all men and women to his Father. Sharers in Jesus’ mission of reconciliation, he then commissioned them to forgive sins.
Putting to one side the particular and unique ministry of bishops and priests to forgive sins in persona Christi by virtue of their ordination, every disciple, by virtue of his or her baptism is sent forth as a missionary disciple, like Jesus, to participate in his mission to reconcile the world to the Father. Filled with faith in the Risen Lord and empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit, each of us are capable, by grace, of being the peace, forgiveness, compassion and mercy of Jesus in the world.
May we, through the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit, have the grace to recognize the Risen Lord in our midst, as we look upon his wounded hands and side in our neighbor’s physical and spiritual suffering.
May we rejoice in how the Father has recreated us in and through the Spirit, and has sent us forth as members of his Body to reconcile the world, in all of its pain, alienation and sin, to him.
1. How does Jesus invite me to be his peace in my world?
2. In what ways has the gift of the Holy Spirit empowered me to be or to aspire to be, a missionary disciple?
3. What would need to change for me to embrace the gift of the Holy Spirit that I received in baptism and confirmation?