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05.31.2020 Pentecost Sunday “Receive the Holy Spirit”

Updated: Oct 10, 2020

- El Greco -

1541 Candia - 1614 Toledo

Museo del Prado

– Madrid -

(Acts 2:2-4)

Cretan-born painter, sculptor, and architect, Domenikos Theotokopoulos settled in Spain and is regarded as the first great genius of the Spanish School. He was known as El Greco (the Greek).

El Greco’s “Pentecost,” was painted to be an altarpiece.

· A dove at the top of the painting represents the Holy Spirit; its wings are spread and the light that surrounds it is radiating downward over the gathering.

· The two men in the foreground at the bottom of a short flight of stairs have lifted their arms and are leaning back slightly in order to look at the dove.

· Mary (dressed in red and blue) is seated at the centre of the painting with Apostles gathered around her; two other women are included in the painting.

· The woman at Mary’s left shoulder is thought to be Mary Magdalene and the fourth person from the left side may be Martha. [Acts states that when the Apostles prayed, they did so with “…women and Mary.”]

· El Greco also included himself in this painting. His face is second from the right; he is the man with a white beard who seems to be in deep thought and is not looking up towards the dove.

The figures in “The Pentecost” are not posing for a formal group portrait. They are an animated informal mix of people who in body language and facial expression are reacting individually, and yet they are part of the collective experience. They are responding with awe and excited emotional involvement as they take part in this miraculous event.


John 20:19-23

19 “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’”.


The Context

Over the last weeks we payed attention to the Final Discourse of Jesus “after” the Last Supper with the Disciples before the Passover.

Chapters 18-19 described the Passion of Jesus from the betrayal of Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane until the burial of Jesus.

Chapter 20 begins the narrative of the Resurrection of Jesus with the Empty Tomb and the appearance to Mary of Magdala.

The present text, follows that first appearance.

The Gospel of John will narrate another appearance to the twelve Disciples gathered in prayer at the Cenacle and, in the epilogue of the Gospel in Chapter 21, a final encounter of the Risen Lord with the disciples by the Lake of Tiberias with the commissioning of Saint Peter.

The Day of Pentecost

The date for the "Feast of Weeks" originally came the day after seven full weeks following the first harvest of grain. In Jewish tradition the fiftieth day was known as the “Festival of Weeks”. The actual mention of fifty days comes from Leviticus[1].

The Gospels speak of the sending of the Holy Spirit on the same day or a day soon after the Resurrection. However, other texts of the New Testament describe the appearances of Jesus during a period of fifty days[2].

The Words and Actions of Jesus

In these four verses, we find a very lively discourse using a good number of verbs to describe what is taking place:

Jesus “Came-Stood-Spoke-Showed his hands” and then

He “Spoke-Sent the Disciples-Breathed on them-Spoke”.

The Dynamism of the Holy Spirit

While in the narrative of the Passion of Jesus time seems to run in slow motion, after the Resurrection all happened very quickly. In a single Chapter, we saw the empty tomb, the appearance to Mary of Magdala and the sending of the Holy Spirit. It all seems to be a blast of life and enthusiasm, joy and amazement.

Both, the fast-moving description of what happened after the Resurrection of Jesus and the way Saint John writes this encounter with the Disciples for the sending of the Holy Spirit may point out to the dynamism of the Holy Spirit.

This is described by Saint Paul in the letter to the Philippians, in a hymn that seems to be the most ancient Christological Hymn recorded in Scripture[3]: the progressive and humble abashment of Christ meets a sudden and unexpected turning point through His unexpected exaltation to the highest heavens.

This matches the humbling human experience of suffering: one seems to fall deeper and deeper in an unending circle of humbling discomforts. However, s/he reaches the “bottom line”, to realize finally that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Then, all of a sudden everything becomes clearer and things fall into place and everything seems to make sense: “Day by day nothing seems to change. But pretty soon… everything’s different” (Bill Watterson).


The Hebrew word Shalom has taken different forms in other languages, like the Arabic salaam, the Maltese sliem, the Syriac-Assyrian Shlama or the Ethiopian and Semitic sälam.

Even if the immediate usage of the word could mean ‘hello or goodbye’, the Hebrew word signifies a state of being: peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility[4].

When Jesus repeats twice the word Shalom to his disciples, He is offering them much more than a conventional greeting[5]. The disciples had suffered a disheartening experience through Jesus’ Passion and the subsequent fear for their own lives. Now, they can finally find the long desired “Shalom” by the side of the Risen Christ who offers them the comfort and consolation of the Holy Spirit.

The joy of the Spirit

The very presence of Jesus in their midst is enough cause for consolation. The disciples rejoiced at seeing Jesus.

Saint Paul describes the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”[6]. Paul, who was a good theologian[7] and a faithful Apostle of the Lord, gives us a definition of what the peace of Christ (the ‘Christian Shalom’) is all about.

He breathed the Holy Spirit

The peak moment in the Gospels. It is the turning point of human history.

This is the birth of the Church and the fullest expression of God’s desire for humanity. God became man in Nazareth through the Incarnation of God’s Son; by the breathing of the Holy Spirit upon those who recognized Jesus as God, humanity is once again restored to the initial likeness of God.

Jesus prepared the disciples during three full years for this moment. The disciples struggled to understand him. They desired something more worldly, but they received much more divine, something they did not know and something they could have never thought or imagined.

If they looked for political power, they found powerlessness; if they looked for honour, they were given crosses and sufferings; however, in turn, they received the blessedness of the Kingdom of God.

He sent them

Awesome and overwhelming as it might have been, the gift of the Spirit was not sent upon the disciples for their own contentment.

As much as Jesus came to serve and not to be served, the disciple of Jesus is sent in the same way as Jesus came to the world from the Father, namely, to serve and not to be served.

If Jesus came to make disciples and teach through words and deeds, the disciples are sent to make more disciples and teach through words and deeds.

The vocation to make disciples continues to inspire the Church to move out of her own existential boundaries into the peripheries of existence[8].

They were sent to forgive

Who can forgive sins if not only God?[9]. However, Jesus showed the Pharisees that He could forgive sins, because He worked through the Power of God.

Jesus confers this Power on the disciples: the Power to serve as reconcilers, to certify the forgiveness of God through their assent.

Man cannot forgive sins, but Jesus wanted his Church be the warrant of God’s forgiveness and of sincere repentance.

The Mission of the Church, thus will be attested by Her service in the promotion of the world’s peace and reconciliation.


"Spirit of the Living God fall fresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

Spirit of the Living God fall fresh on me".


Where do we see the Spirit of God at work?

In creation and nature? In humankind? In my own history?

We can think of a person or a group of persons who was/were meaningful in our lives.

We can think a person or a group of persons who at present is/are meaningful for us.

Do we see God’s Holy Spirit at work in the Church?

Do we experience the Holy Spirit in our prayer?

Do we see the Holy Spirit guiding our life decisions?

We can look for an icon that describes the Holy Spirit?

Do we think God is calling us for something new in our life after this period of trial and social isolation?

What do we think the Holy Spirit is asking of our Church?

Holy Spirit of Fire

Exodus 3:2

“There the angel of the Lord appeared to him [Moses] in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed”.

Exodus 13:21

“The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night”.

Numbers 9:15-23

“Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning. So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night”.

Song of Solomon 8:6

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame”.

Luke 3:16

“John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’”.

Luke 12:49

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

1 Cor. 3:13

“The work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done”.

Hebrews 12:29

“For indeed our God is a consuming fire”.

Revelation 1:13-14

“In the midst of the lamp-stands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire”.

Revelation 2:18

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze”.


[1] Lev. 23:15-16: “And from the day after the Sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh Sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord”. [2] Acts. 1:1-3: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God”. Acts. 2:1: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place”. [3] Philippians 2:6-11: “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. [4] [5] John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”. [6] Gal. 4:22 [7] Acts 22:3: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today”. [8] In his message for World Mission Sunday 18 October 2015, Pope Francis writes: “Being a missionary is not about proselytizing or mere strategy; mission is part of the ‘grammar’ of faith, something essential for those who listen to the voice of the Spirit who whispers ‘Come’ and ‘Go forth’”. [9] Mark 2:7: “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

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