June 4, 2017
The Gospel passage that we hear today (Jn 20, 19-23) brings us back to the Easter evening: according to John the Evangelist, the same evening Jesus appeared to His own, who because of fear were behind closed doors, and there at once, without waiting for fifty days, as Luke recounts in Acts of the Apostles, He gives them His Spirit.
John’s theology intimately joins the gift of the Spirit to the Passion and Resurrection, as one great unique movement, a unique mystery of salvation: he wants to emphasize and make us understand that the Spirit flows from the cross, from the opened side of the Lord who gives life. There cannot be the Spirit without this gift of self that Jesus brings to a fulfillment for us on the cross. And, on the other hand, Easter is not fulfilled unless the Holy Spirit is communicated to men.
John’s Gospel, which we have read on the Sundays of Easter, emphasized that the end of Easter is not that Jesus rises and returns to the Father, but that His life lives within us, that we are made partakers of His own manner of living.
For this reason, Jesus, on the very day of His resurrection, immediately joins His disciples and shares with them the life that He has just found, which the Father gave Him in death: this life, which is a true life because it is reborn from the depths, is now for all those who will receive it.
In saying that Jesus gives the Spirit, John the Evangelist uses an important and very rare term: only here in the New Testament do we find it. He says then that Jesus exhaled, breathed on them (Jn 20:22), even if in the Greek verb we find the prefix “in”, as to say that he did not simply breathe on them, but in them, within them: the Spirit is a gift that does not remain outside the person, but Who enters within, Who becomes the very breath of man.
This verb, which we do not find elsewhere in the New Testament, is present rather in the Old. And it is present just at the beginning, where God, after having formed man with the dust of the earth, “breathed into his nostrils a breath of life and the man became a living being” (Gn 2:7): man, therefore, is formed from two elements, both of which are characterized by a great instability: the dust of the earth, or rather that more delicate and less consistent part of earth, which therefore symbolizes the fragility of his physical constitution, and the breath of life, which means everything that makes an inanimate body a living person: all that allows breathing, that gives the possibility of living.
Well then, as God breathes natural life into the nostrils of Adam, so that he can live, so Jesus breathes the breath of new life into His disciples, so that they may live as resurrected: the Spirit is not something more, an accessory, but is precisely what makes us live, what unites Him to our very fragile human condition and makes us partakers of the life of God. Man is thus a creature called to hold together these two elements, which of themselves would be very far from each other, as heaven is far from earth.
Therefore Pentecost reveals in a conclusive manner the mystery of man: on the Easter evening, by means of Jesus’ breathing, God not only makes us a new creature, but a creature who lives the very life of God, someone called to hold together natural and divine life, flesh and Spirit, earth and heaven. Only then is man complete.
Not only. But another element illuminates this completion of creation, which Pentecost accomplishes: in the Genesis story the work of God concerns man, the first man, man the individual. On Pentecost there is something different: on the Easter evening Jesus gives the Spirit to the disciples gathered together, and recreates them as a community of brothers. The Church is born.
The work of the Spirit, in fact, is not that of creating perfect individuals, as much as that they may be holy. The work of the Spirit is an event of communion, it creates a fraternity, it is made up of differences, it makes unity possible. In other words, it is at the origin of the Church.
The new life of the Spirit is no longer a life lived in isolation that seeks its own fulfillment, but in the encounter with the one with whom life is shared: it cannot be lived unless it is in turn communicated, shared, donated, so that this very life, in itself, is quite literally a gift. If we try to lead it and possess it, the Spirit goes out and we return to death.
For this reason, closely linked to the gift of the Spirit is the gift of forgiving sins (Jn 20:23), or the ability to not let evil overwhelm man, destroying his relationships: the apostles, full of the Holy Spirit, are sent to do the very thing they have seen in Jesus, that is to bring life where there is death. This is the Spirit they have received.
If the Holy Spirit is a life born from death, the best way to share it will be to announce forgiveness to those who live in death, in sin, so that all may live.