Early Christians knew that they were different. Each literary strand of the New Testament speaks of a mysterious force that propelled the Christian community to success even in the face of intimidating obstacles. This force gave authority to speech and success to works. It strongly resembled the Spirit that had motivated Jesus, and Christians came to realize they now shared in that same Spirit. It was a gift from Jesus to his disciples that allowed them to continue his mission.
‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ (Jn 20:21)
How has the Spirit transformed you?
How has Jesus called you to continue his mission of mercy?
John the Evangelist was especially interested in the Spirit. He first presents it as the bond of love between the Father and the Son (1:32). It was the power that gave authority to Jesus’ preaching and deeds, and the power that would save him from death (6:63). At his death, Jesus handed the Spirit back to his Father, the source of all life (19:30). In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus, risen in the power of the Spirit, shares this gift with his disciples and, by implication, with believers of every generation.
In today’s first reading, Luke provides three illustrations of the effects of the Spirit on the Christian community. First, the apostles, speaking with power, convinced many people that Jesus had risen from the dead. Just as important was the lack of poverty in the early community; the Spirit led the wealthy to act with extraordinary mercy toward others. Finally, the Spirit was the source of peace, forging a community “of one heart and mind.”
In the second reading, John speaks of the Spirit’s transformation of the individual. John knew the obstacles that Christians faced, but he also knew that those who maintained their faith through such difficulties overcame them. Jesus had promised to send the Spirit, and faith kept the memory of that promise alive. In difficult times, those who kept faith found that, like Jesus, they were children of God, who could face even death.
In the first part of today’s Gospel reading, John reaches the end of his narrative of the Spirit. Jesus shared the Spirit with the apostles and directed them to use it for the forgiveness of sins. With the Spirit, the apostles were able to speak with divine authority. They could forgive offenses against God on God’s behalf. This ministry continues today both in the church, through the sacrament of reconciliation, and among individual Christians when they forgive and perform works of mercy.
In the second part of the Gospel reading, Jesus chides Thomas for his slowness of faith, but he also shows that he is able to overcome Thomas’s doubts and bring him to belief. At various times in history, Christians have used this Gospel to defend the use of material things like sacramentals, pilgrimages, icons or other religious art. Christ is willing to use things that are seen to strengthen us when we are weak in faith. Those of us who through baptism continue his mission in the Spirit must remember that as individuals and as church, we are icons of Christ. The world must see in us the same merciful Christ who appeared to the apostles. Then from us they can learn of Christ’s mission and perform great works with his Spirit.