John 20: 19–23
There seems to be a contradiction between the coming of the Spirit as recorded in this gospel and in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. In the gospel, the Spirit is given by Jesus himself on Easter day, whereas in Acts the Spirit comes upon the disciples at the Jewish feast of Pentecost which occurred fifty days after Passover (2:1-4). This dilemma appears to be resolved when we recall that the Spirit was also given to the prophets of the Old Testament. After the resurrection of Jesus, it is the fullness of the Spirit that is offered to us, and this can happen in various ways and on many occasions.
What matters most is to understand the implications of this out-pouring of God’s Spirit. This is clearly presented in today’s gospel where the new presence of Jesus in the Spirit is expressed in terms of peace, mission and forgiveness. The risen Lord addressed his disciples with the greeting, “Peace.” However, this is no longer just a wish, as is the case when we use it as a greeting; it is now a GIFT. Living in the Spirit of Jesus will provide us with a deep confidence that can withstand even the most tragic experiences.
To live in the Spirit of Jesus means also to accept the mission of making the love of the Father evident in our world and thereby to continue and to extend the presence of Jesus in human history. The love of Jesus is made present in our world most effectively through the loving presence of his followers.
Jesus then breathes upon the disciples, just as God had done in the creation story (Genesis 2:7), making clear that the new life in the Spirit will be a challenge to us just as it was to Adam—a challenge that will lead to life or death. Some will accept the message of Jesus with joy and be converted and experience forgiveness. Others will resist the good news as they cling to selfish ways and thus remain in sinful rebellion.
Many years ago, I heard one of our older monks say about a young novice, “That one has the Spirit.” What he seemed to suggest was that this novice was imbued with such a spirit of quiet, confident joy that he was able to go about his work and prayer in a way that seemed so natural and so spontaneous that it could almost be called instinctive. He was reveling in life, not enduring it.
That novice had, of course, the great advantage of being young and healthy. But we all know older persons also who have experienced the sorrows as well as the joys of life and who still seem so peaceful and confident. This cannot be simply a matter of personal disposition. This can only happen when we open ourselves fully to the Spirit of God.
When we live in this positive and loving way, we are fulfilling the mission of Jesus in our world. We may seem to be warming and redeeming only the small, chilly space that we happen to occupy in life but our kindness radiates in fact in wonderful ways to touch the whole world. This loving concern will also include the precious gift of forgiveness-—a gift that heals and reconciles and liberates. To be a follower of Jesus is a blessing; to “have the Spirit” is the fullness of that blessing.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.