Pentecost Sunday – Year A
John 20:19-23



For the first Christians, the first day of the week is important because it is the day of the Lord (Rev 1:10). It is that day in which the community usually reunites to break the Eucharistic bread (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2).

It is evening. The temporal indication with which the evangelical passage starts is precious. Perhaps it indicates the late hour in which the early Christians were used to gather for their celebration.

The doors are locked for fear of the Jews (v. 19). Jesus certainly did not announce triumphs and easy life to his disciples. “You will have trouble in the world,” he said (Jn 16:33). However, the main reason for insisting on closed doors (Jn 20:26) is theological. John wants to make it clear that the Risen One is the same Jesus that the apostles have seen, known, heard, touched, but is in a different condition. He is not back to his previous life (as Lazarus did). He enters into a completely new existence. The body is no longer made of material atoms. It is imperceptible to the verification of the senses.

The resurrection of the flesh is not equivalent to the resuscitation of a corpse. It is the mysterious blossoming of a new life from a finite being. Paul explains this fact through the image of the seed. He says that “the body is sown in decomposition; it will be raised never more to die. It is sown in humiliation, but it will be raised for glory. It is buried in weakness, but the resurrection shall be with power. When buried it is a natural body, but it will be raised as a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44).

When Jesus shows his hands and his side, the disciples rejoice. A surprising reaction: they should be sad seeing the signs of his Passion and Death. Instead, they rejoice, not because they find themselves in front of the Jesus whom they accompanied along the roads of Palestine, but because they see the Lord (v. 20). They realize that the Risen One, who is revealing himself to them, is the same Jesus who gave up his own life.

John places the manifestations of the Risen One in the context of the first day of the week. He wants to tell the Christians of his community that they too can meet the Lord. They will not encounter Jesus of Nazareth with the material body he had in this world, but the Risen One, every time they come together “in the Lord’s day.” After having twice addressed them the greeting: Peace be with you! (vv. 19:21) Jesus gives His Spirit to the disciples and confers them the power to forgive sins (vv. 21-23).

The disciples are sent to fulfill a mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

When he was in the world, Jesus made the face and the love of the Father present (Jn 12:45). Now, having left this world, he continues his work through the disciples on whom he confers his Spirit.

Welcoming him was welcoming the Father who sent him, now welcoming his envoys are welcoming him (Jn 13:20).

To understand the mission entrusted to the apostles, the forgiveness of sins through the outpouring of the Spirit, we must refer to the religious conceptions of the people of Israel and to the words of the prophets.

            At the time of Jesus, it was widely thought that the people were acting badly. They defiled themselves with their idols. They were unclean because they were moved by an evil spirit. We wondered when God would intervene to rescue them and to instill in them a good spirit.

In the Letter to the Romans, Paul makes a dramatic description of the miserable condition of the person who is at the mercy of the evil spirit: “I cannot explain what is happening to me because I do not do what I want, but on the contrary, the very things I hate. I know that what is right does not abide in me, I mean in my flesh. I can want to do what is right, but I am unable to do it. In fact, I do not do the good I want, but the evil I hate” (Rom 7:15-19).

 Through the mouth of the prophets God promised the gift of a new spirit, of His Spirit: “Then I shall pour pure water over you and you shall be made cleancleansed from the defilement of all your idols. I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I shall put my spirit within you and move you to follow my decrees and keep my laws” (Ezk 36:25-27).

This outpouring of the Lord’s Spirit would renew the world. He will flood it—said the prophet Ezekiel—like a rushing torrent of water which, when it enters the desert, makes it fruitful and turns it into a garden. “Near the river on both banks there will be all kinds of fruit trees will foliage that will not wither and fruit that will never fail; each month they will bear a fresh crop because the water comes from the temple. The fruit will be good to eat and the leaves will be used for healing” (Ezk 47:12). They are delightful images that admirably describe the life-giving work of the Spirit.

On Easter day these prophecies are fulfilled. In a symbolic gesture—Jesus breathed on them—the Spirit is consigned. This breath recalls the moment of creation, when “the Lord God formed man, dust drawnfrom the clay, and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life” (Gen 2:7). The breath of Jesus creates the new person, one who is no longer a victim of the forces that lead to evil but is animated by a new energy that drives him to do good.

Where the Spirit goes, evil is overcome, sin is forgiven—cancelled, destroyed—and the new being, modelled on the person of Christ, is born.

The mission that the Risen One entrusts to his disciples is to forgive sins, thus continuing his work as the “Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29).

What does it mean to forgive sins? These words have been interpreted—in the right way but limited—as the conferment on the apostles the power to absolve from sins. It’s not the only way to forgive, that is, to neutralize in order to overcome sin. The rights conferred by Jesus is much more extensive and involves all the disciples who are animated by his Spirit; it is that of cleansing the world of every form of evil. The powers are not two, but one—to forgive or to retain—at the discretion of the confessor that evaluates each case.

            The power is only one, that of annihilating sin, in all ways. But this can also be not forgiven, if the disciple is not committed to creating the conditions that all may open their hearts to the action of the Spirit, the sin is not remitted.

Of this failure of the mission, the disciple is responsible.

READ:  Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples.  On the day of the Pentecost, the Spirit descends on them as tongues of fire.  In baptism, we have all received the same Spirit who unites us into one body of Christ.

PRAY:  Pray for an increase in the power of your faith.  Pray that the Spirit will rekindle the passion to live with God and for God.  Pray for the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

REFLECT:  The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church and every Christian.  He animates us and gifts us with the charisms for the good of the society.  He helps us relate to one another as sisters and brothers of Christ, thus uniting us into one body of Christ.  The Holy Spirit is the union and understanding among peoples.

ACT:  Take a leisurely, solitary walk and feel your kinship with the entire creation, giving thanks to the Spirit.

Fernando Armellini
Italian missionary and biblical scholar

Spirit of mercy, peace, unity and mission
Romeo Ballan mcci

Pentecost Sunday is a feast of wonders! “We hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God”. (1st Reading).

So many different nations (17 groups of people are mentioned), with different languages, now speak a common language: they are all in tune in speaking of the great works of God (v.8-11).

The author of the wonders is the Holy Spirit, who has just descended on the community gathered in the Upper Room, in the Cenacle.

Let us first of all remark and contemplate the presence of the Virgin Mary in the Cenacle, among the disciples. We know that, since her Conception and the annunciation of the Angel, Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit (Lc 1,30…) and she enjoyed a very special friendship with the Holy Spirit.

So, in the days before the coming of the Holy Spirit, when the first Christian community was still like a beginner, like a baby, the Virgin Mary was teaching the disciples how to pray, and, like a Mother, patiently she taught the Apostles how to stand up, how to walk.

When the Spirit arrived and filled the heart of the disciples, their life change completely. Then Mother Mary pushed the disciples to go out, to preach the Gospel with courage and confidence.

The missionary Church has just born in that very day and the disciples become the witnesses of Jesus until the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit is the greatest fruit of Easter. In fact, we see in today’s Gospel how the Risen Lord breathes out the Spirit over his disciples and says: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. (v. 21-23).

The holy Spirit is the Spirit of the mercy for the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, He is also the Spirit of peace: peace with God and among our brothers and sisters.

He is the Spirit of the universal mission, indeed, the leader and main agent of mission (cfr. RMi cap. III: EN 75s), which Jesus entrusts to the Apostles.

As the Father sent me…” These words link forever the mission of the disciples to the life of the most Holy Trinity.

Pentecost is the overcoming of Babel and a transition to a life of brotherly communion. Indeed, the confusion of languages had caused the dispersal of the nations, of the proud people wanting to build a city and make themselves a great name (Gen. 11:1-9); but in Jerusalem, when the Spirit comes down, diverse nations are able to understand and to communicate to one another the great works of God.

At Babel all spoke the same language but no one was able to understand the other.

At Pentecost all speak different languages, but all understand one another.

In our human hearts the Spirit moves the centre of concern: no longer a selfish looking out for self, but to live in God, to love one another, and proclaim the works of God for the good of the whole human family.

The Holy Spirit is the beginning of a new life; He is the Spirit of unity, of faith, of love, of the plurality of charisma and cultures.

Unity and diversity are two gifts of the same Spirit: diverse peoples understand a language that is common to them all. St. Paul (II Reading) attributes clearly to the Spirit the ability to make the Church one and many in the plurality of charisma, ministries and activities (v. 4-6).

The Spirit wants a Church that is rich in a variety of gifts, but united; a Church that does not cancel differences, but is able to make the best use of all of them.

The breath of Jesus over the Apostles in the evening of Easter (v. 22) calls to mind the new creation which is the work of the Spirit. The gesture of breathing over the Apostles symbolises the appearance of a new life for a new humankind.

Every person from every people in the world is called to enter this new people / new family of God, grace to the personal work of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is always at work in the heart of every person, even before the first missionaries arrive to a certain, new place. So the new people/family of God is open even for those who are not baptised yet.

In fact, in a real action, by ways not visible to us, the Spirit disposes peoples’ hearts, even those of non-Christians, for the necessary saving encounter with Christ, as the Council teaches us: “We believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man and woman the possibility of being associated with the paschal mystery (of Jesus)”. (Gaudium et Spes 22; a text quoted three times by John Paul II in his Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, n. 6.10.28).