John 20: 19–23
On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the wonderful good news that the risen Lord has poured out his Spirit upon us, first of all to convince us of his victory over sin and death, and then to enable us to continue his work of salvation by our own love and concern for others.
As we can well imagine, the disciples were filled with fear and foreboding after the death of their master. But suddenly Jesus is there among them radiant with life. He shows them his terrible wounds, which have now become beautiful emblems of his love for them. He offers them his peace—that deep, calm, resonant sense of confidence, which is so different from the peace that the world can offer—a superficial peace that amounts to little more than a temporary cessation of hostilities. This profound peace becomes possible through the presence of his Spirit in them.
And then Jesus tells them what possessing the Spirit will mean in their lives. Henceforth, they will need to be converted from their natural tendency to be self-centered to an attitude of loving concern for others. And this will be manifested first and foremost by their willingness to forgive others. This would be impossible if we did not enjoy the powerful presence of the Spirit who enables us to overcome our constant judgmental tendencies.
As fragile human beings, we know the experience of living in fear and of being anxious and worried about many things, some of which exist only in our imagination. Jesus, having absorbed the ultimate violence, offers us his peace and thereby enables us to be confident and joyful in the face of even severe uncertainty and threat. This represents a real experience of liberation from the paralysis of fear—a paralysis that often prevents us from doing beautiful and risky things, like giving cut flowers!
With this peace and joy comes the obligation to share our blessings with others. It was once thought that the command of Jesus to forgive or retain sins was addressed only to priests and referred only to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Now it is clear that this charge is addressed to all the followers of Jesus. We must all accept the wonderful and awesome responsibility of offering or withholding forgiveness. In this case, the sin of omission looms large and should make us all examine our consciences in regard to the many times that we may have persisted in nursing old injuries or have refused to make allowance for extenuating circumstances in the lives of those we call sinners.
In this regard, we should recall the very strong words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” (Matthew 7: 1–2) When we face the final judgment, we all hope to have a merciful judge and now we know how to assure that happy outcome.
It is, of course, very difficult to achieve such an ideal of forgiveness. And that is why Jesus offers us the Holy Spirit who, if given half a chance, will empower us to become the kind of gentle, caring, and compassionate persons that can make a real difference in a world that desperately needs the witness of love and forgiveness. Let us all rejoice in this wonderful gift of the Spirit.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.