Holy Spirit

ACTA

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

Pentecost Sunday Year C
Year of Luke

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READINGS

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 104:1. 24. 29-31. 34. R/. cf.v.30

A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans 8:8-17

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
20:19-23

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Why Pentecost?

When the day of Pentecost arrived … . That’s the translation that our present Lectionary offers us of the very first words of our readings today. It fails to do justice to the solemnity with which Luke opens up his account of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He begins,

And in the complete filling up of the day of Pentecost …

He means “when the day of Pentecost was coming to an end”. You might wonder why he didn’t write a less contorted sentence. But what Luke wanted to do was to nudge his hearers and readers into remembering another important occasion:

Now it happened that in the coming to an end of the days before his being taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51

Luke knows that his hearers and readers are well aware of what is to happen in Jerusalem. There will be a betrayal. There will be a death. But there will be a resurrection. There will be a disclosure of the meaning of the Scriptures. There will be a breaking of the bread. There will be an ascension. And then there will be a waiting, a huddle in an upper room and people praying in expectation of they know not what. For what happens in the twilight of Pentecost day will profoundly determine everything else that occurs in the rest of his Acts of the Apostles. What happens as the evening darkness closes in on the crowded upper room is an empowering that will bring the gospel of God from there to the streets of Rome. This is the last sentence of the story told in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, a story that begins in an upstairs room and ends with Paul in Rome:

[Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Acts 28:30

Luke, as he often does, imitates a Hebrew form of expression to emphasise the wonder of what is to happen in the evening of this momentous day.

The Jewish feast of Pentecost is a harvest festival:

You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the first-fruits of your labour, of what you sow in the field. Exodus 23:16

There are two harvest festivals that mark the agricultural seasons. The Feast of Unleavened Bread marks the sowing of the spring grain and coincides with the Feast of Passover (Mark 14:1). The Harvest Festival (“the day of the first fruits” or the Feast of Weeks, Shavu’ot in Hebrew) is observed exactly seven weeks after the Sunday following the last day of Passover. The Greek name Pentecost means fifty, and it is on this day celebrating a new and plenteous harvest that the Holy Spirit comes. Some early Christians counted exactly fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost and celebrated on whatever day that occurred. It was a movable feast. For all Christians it marks the birth of the churches and so of the Church.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.
The word of the Lord.

Each reading today requires that we pay attention to almost every word. Indeed, we must be on the lookout for words that are not in our readings and yet are there. The passage from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, we must realise, has a whole Gospel by way of an introduction. Or perhaps we should regard his Gospel as Chapter 1, followed by Chapter 2, a chapter built solidly on all that is so carefully constructed on everything that has gone before.
The story of Pentecost, our birthday, begins with “the sound of a wind from heaven”. Not your ordinary wind, but a wind from heaven, that is, a wind from God. Immediately the very first sentences of the Hebrew Bible come to mind. This is how the Jewish Study Bible translates the opening sentence of the Book of Genesis:

In the beginning God created heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said. “Let there be light”; and there was light.
Genesis 1:1-2

The creation of the heavens (the skies above) and the earth began with “a wind from God”, or, better, “the wind of God”. The word ruah means “wind”, “breath”, and “spirit”. So many translations, including the JB, offer “the spirit of God”. The NJB has “with a divine wind sweeping over the waters”. There is a footnote in the JB informing readers that ruah here “is not a reference to the Spirit of God and his part in creation. The creation was effected by the ‘word’ of God”. This is to run counter to the Bible’s ability to capture whatever possibilities there are in words for, as rabbis see things, the Bible’s words began in the mind of God and are, therefore, open to every possibility. Luke’s “a mighty rushing wind” actually points to a Hebrew understanding in this instance and that suggests he is alive to the possibilities of ruah as a reference to wind and spirit. The rush of wind “filled the entire house where they were sitting”. The Holy Spirit totally fills every nook and cranny of what it being created, a community that will become a Church of many churches.
Luke has called on his readers and hearers to remember the first creation in order to understand the second. Heaven signals the approach of creation with “a wind sweeping over the waters”. Or are we to believe that creation begins with the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, hovering over the darkness of the deep and over the waters, ready at the word of God to transform the void into life?
When that is accomplished there is yet another creation, a crowning masterpiece:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:26-27

The second account of God’s creative endeavours adds that,

… the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:7

The ruah of life, the very breath of God, is breathed into humanity and the dust of the earth becomes a living being.
That same creative breath of God is breathed into the frightened band in that locked room and the fire of the Spirit tempers them into the steel of a new creation.
It is imperative to understand that it is not only the apostles who receive the Holy Spirit. While they are filled with the Holy Spirit, so is everyone who had gathered in that upper room. The rushing wind, the tongues of fire “rested on each one of them” and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Individually, each is blown by the wind and filled with the fire of the Spirit who “rested upon each one of them”.

Holy Spirit

The Spirit of God, as we can gather from the first few lines of the Hebrew Bible, is the creative power of God. The Spirit is God’s power in action and in order to understand the Spirit in the pages of the New Testament it is best to observe the activity of the Spirit in the Hebrew Bible.
When the prophet Elijah was swept up by a whirlwind into heaven, some men from Jericho did not understand what had happened and reported their fears to Elisha:

It may be that the Spirit of the Lord has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.
2 Kings 2:16

Remember the report in St Mark’s Gospel about the testing of Jesus in the desert:

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
Mark 1:12

The creativity of the Spirit looks to the wellbeing of all:

When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
Psalm 104:30

The prophet Ezekiel tells of a strange vision of a valley of dry bones that signified “the whole house of Israel”. As he looked upon the dry bones that had no breath of life (ruah) in them, the Lord God spoke to him:
Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.
Ezekiel 37:12-14

Notice that God’s Spirit is a Spirit that sustains life itself. One of Job’s friends Elihu makes this claim:

The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Job 33:4

The marvellous story of Balaam disobeys the cruel king in order to do what God wants. The reason is simple:

The Spirit came upon him. Numbers 24:2

Often the Spirit of God is given to equip someone to fulfil a particular service, what we might call, a ministry. The appointment of the seventy elders is a case in point:

And [Moses] gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. Numbers 11:25

Moses was not permitted by God to enter the land flowing with milk and honey. He appointed Joshua appointed as the
leader of the people in his stead:

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Deuteronomy 34:9

Another case is that of Othniel:

But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand.
Judges 3:9:10

This is a very enlightening quotation because though the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel, it was the Lord who, through him, achieved victory. Othniel is an instrument of God’s power.

The prophet Micah had every confidence in his vocation as one of God’s prophets:

But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the Lord,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
and to Israel his sin.
Micah 3:8

Joseph’s wonderful dream-coat is admired by many but even Pharaoh recognises where the young man’s wisdom and insight comes from:

Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God? Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are”.
Genesis 41:8-9

The Spirit of God is not for the favoured few. A prayer

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:10-12

A final word from the prophet Joel, a word quoted by Peter in his Pentecost homily:

And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
Joel 2:28-29

To be filled with the holy spirit of the Lord is to be filled with God’s Presence:

Cast me not away from your Presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me
Psalm 51:11
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your Presence.
Psalm 139:7

Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Do not be afraid.
Haggai 2:4-5

To sum up, the Spirit that fills the pages of the Hebrew Bible, the same spirit that fills all who were praying in that darkening room, is a spirit for all occasions and all eventualities. A checklist, as the above examples insist, must include,

A creative spirit
A sustaining spirit
An empowering spirit
A charismatic spirit,
An ordaining spirit
A holy spirit
An inspiring spirit
A spirit sustaining Presence

… and much more besides.

Wind and Fire

The texts from the Hebrew Bible indicate that God’s holy spirit is given to empower individuals for a variety of tasks. The whole people of Israel is given the spirit of God to enable them to keep faithful to the covenant, that is, to be God’s people in God’s holy land and to be a light in God’s unholy world. It is the spirit that enables the doing of God’s will on earth “as it is in heaven”.
The doing on earth what heaven desires, that is, the doing of God’s will, is emphasised in the fact that these Galileans, a motley crew, began to speak “in other tongues”. They were heard by people from all over the ancient Middle East—from Persia, from Africa (Egypt and Libya), and from Rome. And what they were hearing was “the wonderful works of God”.
To understand what Pentecost means in our time and in our place we need turn to our most recent guide, a man entirely filled with the Holy Spirit.

Evangelization is the task of the Church … she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers … Being Church means being God’s people … we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity.
Pope Francis,
The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) §112 and §114.


Responsorial Psalm Psalm 104:1. 24. 29-31. 34. R/. cf.v.30

R/. Send forth your Spirit, O Lord,
And renew the face of the earth.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all. R/,

When you take away their breath,
they die, and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth. R/.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.

R/. Send forth your Spirit, O Lord,
And renew the face of the earth.

Today’s psalm is a song of creation. It is a song of praise, a thank-you to God for the wonder and beauty of our world, for the home that God has made for us. Everything comes from the wisdom of the God who is great, clothed in glory and majesty. Even death is created with the certainty of its undoing.
The whole of Psalm 104 needs to be read and prayed and sung. The psalm sings of every aspect of creation: winds, clouds, deep waters, mountains, valleys, springs, torrents, wild beasts—even wild asses—birds of the sky, foliage, grass, bread, trees, the moon, night and day, and, of course, the sun. It is no surprise that the poet is forced to end his litany of glory with a prayer of praise:

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord. Psalm 104:33-35

 

A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans
8:8-17

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
The word of the Lord.

Saint Paul’s letter to Christian house-churches in Rome is not easy. Martin Luther’s interpretation of the letter led to the break-up of Christian Europe and even to wars. It is still a divisive text, though less so than it used to be. What surprises me is that the formerly pagan people who made up not much more than five household churches in Rome, revered and understood it so well that they kept it and passed it to other churches so that it became part of our New Testament. When we hear it proclaimed we shout out that this letter of Paul, a Jew from the Tarsus, to tiny huddles of non-Jewish Christians is, in fact, “the word of the Lord”. How did that happen?
It happened because in the history of Christian Churches east and west, Catholic and Protestant, the very best minds have agreed that the words of Paul are of central importance in any effort to understand who we are and to what purpose God called us “to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6). Though written over two thousand years ago for a few people in the totally pagan city of Rome, these few were “beloved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7). We too are “beloved by God” and “called to be saints”, “set apart for the gospel of God”. Paul’s letter to the few in Rome explains who and why we are what we are.

An Empowering Spirit

First, a negative. Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh (8:5). Those who choose to live a self-centred life, a life motivated by selfish concerns, and entirely dismissive of any dependency on God. In 8:4 Paul employs the verb “to walk” as a metaphor, common in the Bible, for a way of life. God commands Moses to teach the people of Israel,

… make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Exodus 18:20

The Psalms sing to the same tune:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth. Psalm 86:11

Paul points out that those who have been baptised, those who are “in Christ”, are filled with the Holy Spirit. Being “in Christ” means that one is being freed from sin, from death, and from the wrath of God. If Christ is in you, if the Spirit dwells in you, then you are not slaves for you belong to Christ and are numbered among the sons and daughters of God.

Of course, the baptised Christian does not own the Spirit. The Christian shares in the life of the Spirit. Each is a living stone in the Temple of God, living in the very Presence of God. So intimate is this relationship that Christians live as “sons and daughters of God” and may cry Abba! The Father! As Paul says in his Galatian letter,

… you are sons and daughters of God, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! The Father!.
Galatians 4:6

Being baptised, being filled with the Spirit of God’s Son, allows the Christian to pray as uniquely as Jesus did:

Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.
Mark 14:36

As we share in his sufferings so we share in his resurrection. To share in the sufferings of Jesus is to know that one will share in his risen glory, in the very glory of God.

This is very difficult to grasp. How can I be brought into the very being of God? Some Christians throughout the ages revere Paul, but most ignore him and few proclaim him from our pulpits. He is difficult but he is difficult because he dares to attempt to explain to us how close we are to God and we can hardly believe what glory awaits. Just a few sentences that provide us with lifelong meditation and prayers of thanks:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Roman 3:23

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:2-5

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:3-4

Paul is a man for all seasons but at Pentecost he is essential reading and praying if we are to understand what happened in the upper room and, as a consequence, what happens to us.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-23

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.
The Gospel of the Lord.

This Gospel is familiar. There are 19 quotations of sentences from this passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These verses form the Gospel Reading on four occasions in the Lectionary. There are good reasons for giving careful attention to what happened behind the locked doors on this, the first Easter Sunday.
Mary Magdalene proclaimed the resurrection “to the disciples”:

“ I have seen the Lord”- and that he had said these things to her. John 20:18

Clearly they did not believe her for they continue to put their faith in the locked doors behind which they were hiding “for fear of the Jews”. So the Risen Lord comes into a room where there is no faith. But their lack of faith does not undo the fact that they are “my brothers” (20:1) any more than the locked doors bar his entry. By the time John’s Gospel came to be written the Christian practice of celebrating the Eucharist on the first day of the week was well established. Readers and hearers of John’s Gospel will have been familiar with encountering the presence of the Lord on the first day of the week.
Jesus comes, not with recrimination, but with a gift: Peace be with you. This is not a wish, not a hope that peace may come to those who are afraid. It is a fact. What Jesus creates in these fearful “brothers” is peace. His standing resolutely before them exudes authority and with that authority he grants peace. They are transformed by the very presence of their Lord and immediately “they were glad”. Seeing his hands and his side is enough to confirm the reality of who it is that gives them peace and an act of faith in the resurrection of their Lord.

The creation of peace is reinforced by the second Peace be with you. In the strength of that peace, Jesus commissions the disciples. It is a commission to be sent as he himself was sent by the Father. This is not a commissioning of the twelve apostles for this group are of no great significance in John’s Gospel. It is important to listen to what this Gospel actually says:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them … John 20:19

Fully to appreciate what this sending of disciples “as you have sent me”, we need to go back to the prayer of Jesus. The prayer comes after the washing of the feet and the promise of the Spirit. We need to understand the breadth and depth of this prayer of Jesus, if we are to grasp who we are that have been given the Spirit and placed in the care of this Holy Spirit. First,

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
John 17:6-817

The disciples, the Jesus people, throughout John’s Gospel are taught much as they hear Jesus address friends and foes much as they journeyed up and down Galilee and Judea and in Jerusalem. Chapters 13 to 17 are devoted to an extended catechesis. Chapter 17 is an extended prayer to the Father, a prayer made in the presence of the disciples. While not always able to understand what Jesus was saying, they do not desert their Teacher. John 6:60-71 is a typical example of their failures in this regard. Even the last teaching, after the washing of their feet, is not always understood and the promise of the Holy Spirit who is to come to them is a promise of enlightenment.
The prayer is for them, for these who have been given the truth from the one who is way, truth, and life:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. John 17:9-11

The glory of Jesus was revealed to the disciples at Cana in Galilee. Their understanding of it will be complete when they receive the Spirit. The promise made to them by Jesus is a promise of enlightenment:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:12-14

Secondly, the prayer is a promise of divine protection, a promise that the Father will guard them as the Father guarded Jesus himself. But how can he say this when on the morrow he will be done to death? Is this heavenly stewardship, Godly care? We have to realise that that death is a coronation; Jesus reigns from the cross, in John’s Gospel. Ironically—and John’s Gospel is full of irony—the death of Jesus is a triumph. What awaits is joy:

I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:12-13

His disciples, and those who come to faith through the ministry of these disciples, have been given God’s word and what they have been given will be a source of joy for it is the truth.
Finally, these disciples who as yet are overcome by confusion and misunderstanding, will come to know the unity of Father and Son. They will realise that they are drawn into that unity and that truth will set them free and make them holy:

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:7-19

For the truth is this:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. John 17:22-26

A Commission

In meeting the Risen Lord and being transported from fear to gladness, the disciples recognise that he has been raised. They are given peace that all will be well, all manner of thing will be well. With the foundation of the peace that only God can give comes responsibility. These disciples, this little church, are commissioned: As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. But before they can take on the world of weakness and evil, of disbelief and distraction, they need to be empowered:

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. John 20:22

He breathed on them is a phrase with a history. Recall again the famous sentence in the Book of Genesis:

… then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:7

Not so familiar are the words God spoke over Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones:

Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Ezekiel 37:9-10

The Book of Wisdom mocks the man that fails to recognise God’s creative hand:
His heart is ashes,
his hope is cheaper than dirt,
and his life is of less worth than clay,
because he failed to know
the one who formed him
and inspired him with an active soul
and breathed into him a living spirit.
Wisdom of Solomon 15:10-11
The Jesus who breathes on his disciples breathes on them in order to create out of them a band of brothers and sisters who have come to know in truth and who must be as Jesus to the world:

Receive a holy Spirit.

To receive a holy Spirit is to be filled with the breath and energy of God to accomplish that to which we have been consecrated by God.

A community of Forgiveness

In this case, the disciples, the little church being created by the life-giving breath of Jesus, is empowered to be a community of forgiveness. It must give as Jesus gives: Peace be with you! The authority to forgive or to withhold forgiveness is a command to create peace, to settle disturbed hearts, to free hearts and souls from the burden of sin. While there is much discussion as to the precise meaning of the authority Jesus breathes into his community of disciples, I suggest that the loosing and binding reflects the teaching of St Matthew concerning missionary practice enjoined by Jesus on his disciples:

As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. Matthew 10:12

Peace is not a lovey-dovey business. It is the hard reality of human existence. Peace is what Christians must bring to our world. It is not merely about stopping the shooting. It is far more difficult than that. It is teaching all peoples to understand what it means to be created by the breathing into the clay of humanity, the very breath, the very life of God.
On the 15th Sunday of the Year of Luke our Gospel reading is from Luke 10:1-12. It is Luke’s version of the instruction Jesus gave to disciples he was sending out to prepare the way in “every town and place he himself was about to go”. The trainee missionaries are “as lambs among wolves”. On entering a house the greeting must be the giving of peace: Peace be to this house!:

And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. Luke 10:6

What the disciple offers is the peace of God, a blessing, not a routine ‘Hello!’ It is the peace of God that heals the sick, that brings peace to the sicknesses of the world. In the bringing of peace “know … that the kingdom of God has come near”. If peace is rejected, then it is time to wipe the dust of that town off your sandals (Luke 10:11). It is a time to withhold forgiveness until true repentance is the order of the day. We pray this lesson from God every day:

Forgive us our trespasses
as we have forgiven those who trespass against us.

Unless we make peace we will never know the peace Jesus gives, for we will not recognise what it is that is on offer. And we will never know the obligation that the joy of that peace imposes.


Joseph O’Hanlon

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