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The BREATH of God: Pentecost Sunday

On Resurrection Day, Jesus breathed on His disciples—a gesture odd in itself but packed with meaning for our celebration of Pentecost.

Gospel (Read Jn 20:19-23)

The Pentecost Gospel tells us that Jesus surprised the disciples “on the evening of that first day of the week” by appearing in their midst without using a door (locked “for fear of the Jews”).  We wonder if He had to calm them down a bit because He said twice, “Peace be with you.”  We can imagine how startled they were.  He showed them His wounds, in case they thought He was a ghost.  Then, Jesus gave the apostles an astonishing commission: “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.”  What had begun three years earlier with a call to “Follow Me” (Mt 4:19) culminated in a sending out.  Their work was to be a continuation of the divine apostleship of Jesus (“apostle” means “one sent”; see Heb 3:1).  If we have paid attention to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ companionship with these men, we have seen clear indications that He intended to give the apostles authority to build His Church and do His work.  We are impressed by the scope of their mission but not really surprised by it.  However, after announcing His directive to them, Jesus steps out of the expected with an action that can only be described as strange: “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”  Don’t let familiarity with this verse rob it of its shock value.  Why on earth did Jesus breathe on His apostles?

To understand this moment, so different from anything we’ve yet seen in any Gospel account, we have to go back to the beginning, to the first time divinity breathed on humanity.  At Creation, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7).  There is no clearer image than this of God’s desire to impart His own life into man, who is made in His image and likeness.  Adam and Eve’s fall into sin robbed them (and us) of their inheritance as God’s children, but the entire story of salvation reveals God’s plan to restore and renew His life in us.

So vivid is this image of God’s breath in man that we notice when it appears again at the time of the prophet, Ezekiel.  God’s people, Israel, were in exile in Babylon; they had been ravaged by their enemies as punishment for their unfaithfulness to the covenant.  They represent all of us who are spiritually dead and entirely helpless.  However, in His unrelenting determination to restore His people, God says to Ezekiel (whom He called “son of man”):  “’Son of man, can these bones live?’  And I answered, ‘O LORD God, Thou knowest.’  Again He said, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD…Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live…and you shall know that I am the LORD’” (Ez 36:3-6).

Read more at Catholic Exchange 

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