According to the ancient creation story of the Hebrew people, God initiated human life by breathing into the first person the breath of life.
Now we have the Gospel writer, John, presenting Jesus as the human person through whom the will of God was lived out, and through whom the creative word of God was spoken, breathing on the disciples, calling them into a new dimension of human life that he came to bring forth.
As I preached before on this subject, this story in John’s Gospel can be seen as another resurrection story. Within the communal context in the Upper Room, Jesus breathes on those gathered the indwelling life of God in the form of the Spirit. It comes as the life-giving breath of God flows to the disciples from Jesus, who passed from death into life because he gave his life away in love for others.
Resurrection comes for us, too, when we are freed to give our lives away, freed to love beyond the boundaries of our fears, freed not only to be ourselves, but to empower all others to be themselves in the full, rich variety of our humanity.
It is here—in that space after we give our lives away for others that prejudice dies. Here wholeness is tasted. Here resurrection becomes real.
The resurrection experience is not designed to convince the disciples that Jesus has been raised, it is intended to convince them that they have a responsibility to fulfill--- that they are the bearers of the resurrected life—a life that must be shared with the world! And it is the community that is meant to be the source of life.
And this is where the gospel message continues to challenge us.
As St. Paul makes very clear, in many ways for the Corinthian church, Pentecost did not remove problems, it caused more difficulties. The greater presence of the Spirit, the more gifted are God’s people! And gifts tend to make people jealous, defensive, and eventually aggressive.
So, it was of good reason then when Jesus breathed upon the disciples and said “Receive the Holy Spirit,” that he simultaneously granted the power to forgive sins. For wherever there exists the abundant gifts of the Spirit, there will have to be readiness to forgive.
When Jesus showed the community of believers that gathered in that Upper Room the nail marks in his body, he was demonstrating the need to suffer for one another and the need for a strong attitude of patient endurance. This points out how much we need to be patient with the wonderful gifts of other people!
Through a common bond of forgiveness, patience, and long suffering, the gifts of the Spirit will eventually begin to balance off, as each gift will be seen in relation to the gifts of other people.
Pentecost seeks to create a church of exceptionally gifted people, each member brilliant in his or her own way, each one necessary so that the others turn out to be balanced and well put together. Our Church, due to the gifts of the Spirit, is by no means a community of mediocre people, with vague goals and indifferent expectations. On the contrary, our hopes are the highest, our talents the best, our strengths unbeatable.
We will not fear the gifts of the Spirit at Pentecost, if we are united in prayer and shared ambition.
We are called to be big enough to see the faults and offenses of others as somehow the excesses of their good gifts, so that a wholesome relationship with the rest of the community is assured.
We are called to be ready to forgive in the name of an all-loving God. We are called to remember that our finest gifts can turn against us and become our worst enemy, if we don’t seek a strong bond of peace with all our neighbors.
For it is in following this path, that we can truly say we are “born of the Spirit.”