What an image! So simple, and yet so powerful. There is nothing dramatic in what Jesus did with that small group of apostles, gathered together with Mary, on that particular Pentecost day. Breathing is something we constantly do in our life, very often without even thinking about it. And yet, it is life. We all have stamped in our minds, unfortunately, the man crying “I can’t breathe” just minutes before he died, with his neck held under someone else’s knee. Somehow I suspect that he knew that, if that knee does not move, death would be imminent. As, indeed, it was. I remember as a child in summer we would go to the beach and hold competitions as to who would stay longer under the water surface. One could hold on as long as possible, but eventually we would pop up for some air.
The disciples of Jesus had been locked up in that room, full of fear - a fear which paralyzed them. Because of that fear, they could not live. They were as good as dead. When Jesus comes to visit, he gives them two gifts, perhaps the two things that they really needed at that particular moment in their lives. First he gifted them with his peace. They were troubled, their hearts were turmoiled, and fear had engulfed them. Jesus’ presence did not change anything that was happening out there. Those who were against them would still be against them, and those who were determined to get rid of this new sect of followers of Jesus of Nazareth, would still be doing their utmost to do it. In spite of all this, Jesus’ presence brings peace. A peace which empowers them to face all those problems without being crushed by them. As St Paul would say in one of his letters, reflecting on his own personal experiences, “we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed”.
And then Jesus gives life to that life-less body, by breathing on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he tells them. His gift is his own Spirit. And God’s Spirit is not a spirit that crushes, enslaves or suffocates. It is a life-giving spirit. It enabled those disciples to go out of that room and do what they were supposed to do. All this brings to mind another story in the Bible, which was at the beginning of everything. Reading one of the creation stories in the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, we see God forming an image of man made out of clay. It was just a life-less statue. Then the creator “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” This is what happened again on that day of Pentecost. It was a new creation, a new beginning.
How often in our lives do we find ourselves like those disciples! Perhaps paralyzed by our own fears, or enslaved by our own mistakes or those of others. Like those disciples in the upper room, we feel lost, confused, not knowing what to do or, if we knew it, not having enough strength to do it. Today’s liturgy reminds us that we have been given something which is supposed to help us in moments like this. The Holy Spirit which we all received in our baptism is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that he would never leave us alone. The Spirit of God gives us peace in troubled moments, It gives us wisdom to understand what we should do in difficult situations. It gives us courage and strength when we know that, on our own, we fall short of expectations.
This is God’s gift to us. Let us never forget what we have been given, and make good use of it in our lives.