Jesus came and stood in their midst… he showed them his hands and his side. Jesus said to them… As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. (Jn 20:19-22)
For our reflection on sacred scripture this Pentecost we have chosen a segmented quotation from the Gospel reading for Sunday Mass. Here we meet Jesus visiting his Apostles on the evening of the same day He rose from the dead. St. John the Apostle and Evangelist tells us of how Jesus came and stood in their midst even though the Apostles had locked themselves away for fear of those who crucified Jesus.
First, Jesus greets His Apostles with “Peace” (Jn 20:19) in order to console and convince them that this appearance is not false or sinister. Next he shows them His hands and feet and side to reveal that He is tangible and not some ominous apparition. Then He reminds them of the mission He has from his Father: a theme quite familiar to them. Hence, in this progressive way Jesus leads them to trust again in His real presence. Once this trust is reestablished, Jesus is able to “send” them. He sent them out before, granting them authority over unclean spirits (Mk 6:7). Now he breathes on them the cleansing Spirit, granting them authority to forgive sins.
This first, post-Resurrection gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles is an intimate prelude to Pentecost. It occurs without any overt manifestations: no rushing wind, no tongues of flame, no speaking in tongues; no dashing out into the public square (Acts 2:2-4). Still, the Holy Spirit is given. The Spirit is not given with signs and epiphanies; not given as a public wonder, but as a private ministry to certain men whose duty it would now be to bring forgiveness to all who would repent and believe in the Gospel.
To aid our Gospel reflection we have placed on our bulletin cover for Pentecost a work by the Early Renaissance, Venetian artist: Giovanni Bellini, entitled simply, Christ Blessing (1460). This is not the iconic figure of Christ we encountered from El Greco last Sunday. Bellini has Jesus on the move as seen by the Jerusalem landscape behind Him. Bellini paints Jesus offering a blessing, with the express purpose of showing us the pierced hands of Jesus. Bellini also makes a slit in Jesus’ garment so we can see the spear thrust that Jesus showed to His Apostles just before He breathed on them the Holy Spirit. Further, Bellini cleverly shows Jesus holding a book – not the customary prop symbolizing Jesus as the Word of God – but a book with lock or seal.
Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah who can open the seal (Rev 5:2-5). That which he holds, that which is sealed, is the Book of Life or for our purpose on this day of Pentecost – the Book of the Spirit of Life. Without Pentecost and the Spirit of Pentecost poured out upon the world, there would be no life, because there would be no grace. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, Jesus unlocks the supernatural life necessary for our salvation and the glory of the children of God.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services