Year C: Pentecost Sunday

Appearance to the Disciples

John 20, 19-23

 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. 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. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Where do you experience God’s indwelling (presence within) through the Holy Spirit? Describe a time where you experienced the Holy Spirit as a power in your life? Tell the story.
  2. The risen Christ assures us that keeping his word demands our participation in the mission of reconciliation. What “reconciliation” challenges are you facing most right now in your life? Where do you withhold forgiveness, what blocks you?
  3. Through the Spirit, God is constantly calling us to more. How do you consciously remain open to the call of the Holy Spirit? Where might you be sensing the call to newness, harmony, and mission? How will you respond?
  4. How do you feel about Pope Francis’ reflection comment about the Holy Spirit bringing a disorder that leads to unity and harmony. Do you think as a Church we truly seek unity without uniformity (diversity), or are we really about conformity and like-minded thinking?

Biblical Context

John 20:  19-23
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

In John’s Gospel the Spirit is given to the church on Easter evening during Jesus’ first post resurrection appearance to the disciples. On “the first day of the week,” that is, Easter Sunday morning, Mary went to the tomb and discovered it empty. She told Peter and the beloved disciple, who also ran to the tomb and discovered only burial cloths. Next, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene instructed her to tell the disciples that Jesus is “going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). Mary does as she is instructed. It is on that same evening that the scene we read in today’s Gospel occurs.

Today’s Gospel is part of the Gospel selection that we read on that Sunday we discussed Jesus’ gift of peace, given both here and at the Last Supper (John 14:27-28). We also discussed why Jesus would have shown the disciples his hands and his side.

We did not discuss John’s comment, “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” The fact that the disciples rejoiced is a fulfillment of a promise that Jesus made to the disciples at their last meal together (John 14:28). Jesus said to his disciples, “Are you discussing with one another what I said, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy” (John 16:19-20). Then Jesus once more gives them the gift of peace: “Peace be with you.

Jesus then commissions the disciples to carry on his mission to the world. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” At Jesus’ last meal with the disciples, he had earlier said what that mission is. Addressing his words to the Father, Jesus said that the Father has given his son “authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:2-  How are the disciples to have the power to carry on Jesus’ mission to the world? This ministry can be carried out only through the power of the Holy Spirit. “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ “

This description of Jesus breathing on the disciples is one of John’s many allusions to the Book of Genesis. When God created the man in the garden, God “formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). Genesis is a story of creating the material world. John’s Gospel is the story of God’s re-creation, of God’s establishing a new spiritual order through Jesus Christ.

In the new spiritual order people are offered not only eternal life but the forgiveness of their sins: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Scripture scholars suggest that with these words John is describing the effect of baptism, which is the forgiveness of sin. Those whose sins are retained are those who reject the gift of salvation that is offered them and are not initiated into the community. The disciples will have the power to carry on Jesus’ mission only in and through the Spirit.

 A Church That Is Open

Pope Francis

In the light of [today’s] passage, I would like to reflect on three words linked to the working of the Holy Spirit: newness, harmony, and mission.

Newness always makes us a bit fearful because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, program, and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often, we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. . . newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?

The Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in the Church since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this, by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, but which leads everything back to harmony. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division. When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization… So, let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit, overcoming every form of exclusivity? Do I let myself be guided by Him, living in the Church and with the Church?

The older theologians used to say that the soul is a kind of sailboat, the Holy Spirit is the wind which fills its sails and drives it forward, and the gusts of wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Lacking his impulse and his grace, we do not go forward. The Holy Spirit draws us into the mystery of the living God and saves us from the threat of a Church which is gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself; he impels us to open the doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel, to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul of mission. . . . Let us ask ourselves: do we tend to stay closed in on ourselves, on our group, or do we let the Holy Spirit open us to mission? Today let us remember these three words: newness, harmony, and mission.

Today’s liturgy is a great prayer which the Church, in union with Jesus, raises up to the Father, asking him to renew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May each of us, and every group and movement, in the harmony of the Church, cry out to the Father and implore this gift.


Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle C, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.