Receive the Holy Spirit

This coming Sunday is Pentecost with the gospel reading taken from the Gospel of John. John 20:21–22 form a key passage in Johannine theology. The disciples receive the Holy Spirit at this second coming of Jesus: the eschaton, the final era, is now; future is present. In 7:39, the Spirit had not yet been given, since Jesus was not yet glorified. On the cross, Jesus, manifesting the nature of God, which is love, delivers over the Spirit (19:30), symbolized immediately afterward by the flow of the sacramental symbols of blood and water. And now, at his first encounter with the believing community, he breathes the Spirit again as he celebrates the re-creation of God’s people.

Simultaneously, he sends out these disciples just as the Father had sent him (v. 21). His mission becomes theirs; his work is placed in their hands. And that mission, that work, is to manifest God who is love in their words and deeds. Through them now, enlivened by the Spirit, will the presence of God become known and seen and felt in the world.

Although the text does not use parakletos, there is unanimity among commentators that the Holy Spirit is the Advocate promised in the Farewell Discourse of the Fourth Gospel.  That discourse had outlined the role the Advocate/Holy Spirit would play in relation to the disciples. The Holy Spirit will:

  • be recognized by the disciples (14:17)
  • teach the disciples everything (14:26)
  • guide the disciples along the way of all truth (16:13)
  • take what belongs to the Jesus and declare it to the disciples (16:14)
  • glorify Jesus (16:14)
  • bear witness to Jesus in order that the disciples will also bear witness to Jesus (15:26-27)
  • remind the disciples of all that Jesus told them (14:26)

Fr. Raymond Brown nuances these promises in that the parakletos describes that aspect of the Holy Spirit which is specifically concerned with witness so that a believer is assured of all the power needed to be witness.  Brown [1139-43] makes a case that the full power of the Holy Spirit manifests in other ways not connected to the witness of the person/community – e.g. baptismal regeneration, sacramental forgiveness of sins, and gifts that build up the community.

Thus Jesus’ words about sending his disciples as the Father sent him applied immediately to the apostles both with respect to Christian mission and to them in their specific roles/gifts within the church.  It is in Baptism that all believers are privileged to share in this Mission in so far as they all are recipients of the Spirit whom he bequeathed to his disciples (see 20:22). With the particular enabling that Spirit provides, each plays a part in continuing the work and witness of Jesus. What is clear in text such as 1 Cor 12:3-12 (the second reading on Pentecost Sunday, Year A) – to one a particular gift is given, to another, another gift – all from the same spirit.

Image credit: Fr. Ted Bobash,, CC BY-SA

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