Gift of the Holy Spirit Pentecost Sunday: John 20:19-23 19 It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Though the feast we are celebrating is Pentecost Sunday, which occurs about 50 days after Easter Sunday, our Gospel reading today focuses on an encounter with the Holy Spirit on the very day Jesus rose from the dead.
It is the third day after Jesus’s death. The disciples are afraid of the Jewish authorities so they keep a very low profile, hiding away behind locked doors.
The rest of our text tells what the risen Jesus says and does next. He greets them all by saying “Peace be with you,” a normal greeting among the Jews. He says nothing about his ordeal or the fact that the disciples abandoned him after his arrest.
Then he shows them his hands and side, still bearing the visible signs of his crucifixion; his resurrected body still bore the marks of his suffering. Jesus probably intended to show that he was real – changed and yet the same. The signs of his suffering made it plain he was not a ghost; he lived and stood among them.
Then comes the commission, or mission (verse 21), which is almost a continuation of his own mission from the Father. Surprisingly, we discover that the disciples are despatched to bring forgiveness of sins rather than to preach – although reconciliation with God through repentance and forgiveness is, of course, the very essence of the Gospel.
Christian churches interpret verse 21 differently, but for the Catholic Church this is the basis of the Church’s authority to forgive sins after they have been confessed. Jesus gives no description of how the Church is to organise the dispensation of forgiveness. Nor is there any indication of the rite the Church was to set up. Jesus only says that if the Church forgives the sins of men and women then so will God. And if the Church denies this pardon, then God will not forgive the sins either.
Through its long history, the Catholic Church has administered this sacrament in various ways. But at all times it is God’s gift given to an individual in need of forgiveness administered through the Church.
But before giving this commission, Jesus breathes on the disciples and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” So this authority should only be exercised through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Picture the scene: the disciples hidden away from the prying eyes of the world. They are scared. Fear hangs in the air and suddenly there is Jesus standing in the room. Think about what this encounter must have meant for the disciples.
Consider the parallel between Jesus breathing on the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit and God breathing life into man at Creation (Genesis 2:7).
How do you feel about Jesus giving the Church the authority to forgive sins?
Ask the Holy Spirit to shine his loving light into your heart and to guide you as you seek forgiveness for your sins, perhaps in Confession. These words from 1 John 1:9 offer encouragement: “But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right, he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing.”
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you live a life that is pleasing to God.
Read Acts 2:1-11 and try to imagine the scene when the Holy Spirit came in power on the disciples and thousands were added to the Church in one day.
Then read 1 Corinthians 12 and consider the work of the Holy Spirit in your life today.
Lectio Divina is an ancient tradition of reading and engaging with God’s Word
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund