2nd Sunday of Easter B

Not all Pentecosts look the same. Embedded in our minds is the Pentecost described in the Acts of the Apostles with the rush of wind, the tongues of fire dipping down and the dove announcing the Spirit’s arrival.  In John’s Gospel, we have a more intimate telling of the story.  Jesus simply breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” And in that moment, they are transformed by the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus lives within them.

And the same thing happens to us.  For we are members of a Church founded by and upon the Apostles.  We hear the word of God as they shared it.  And most significantly, as they sat around a table as Jesus shared his body and his blood, so do we.  We have inherited our share of the same Spirit.  As the Spirit was breathed by Christ upon them, through our baptism, the Spirit is breathed upon us as well.

Therefore, we all share in the very same Spirit of God that animated Jesus Christ.  Within us is the stuff of Christ.  This makes us capable to loving as Christ loves, forgiving as Christ forgives and blessing as Christ blesses. There are no limits to our potential for goodness.  Which leaves a challenging question.  “Why am I not more like Jesus?”

I am sure that is a question you have asked yourself many times.  “Why is Fr. Bob not more like Jesus?”  (One wise person from the 8:30am having heard of my futility with hammer and nail during our Habitat for Humanity trip, said I am not like Jesus because I am clearly not a carpenter.)  I have a couple of theories.  Ones that might explain why there are still needy among us unlike the first Christians and why we are not one of heart and mind.

It might be that I am too much like Thomas who would not believe that Jesus was risen from the dead until he probed Christ’s wounds.  He refused to give in to Easter hope. Having been devastated by the cross, he would not let his hope exceed what his eyes could witness and his hands could feel.  He would not allow his expectations to be raised.  We do this all the time. Fear of disappointment makes us lower our sights.  We believe we will be less hurt if we did not expect too much.  In reality, we are just choosing to be hurt and lost earlier in the game.  Without hope, we curb our joy and our horizons close in around us. How can we truly celebrate Easter joy without proclaiming all our limits, all our fears, all our expectations have been exceeded beyond our imagination beginning that first Easter day?

Perhaps I am reluctant to surrender my “freedom” to the commandments.  We hear from John in the second reading, “In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.  For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.”  If I may only follow the commandments, doesn’t that limit me?  Yet, it is not the od does not love us if we do not keep the commandments; it is that we close our eyes to the way of love and mercy when we choose a way for ourselves beyond what God has called us to.  Every following of a commandment is a direction toward peace, an outreach of mercy and an experience of love.  Aren’t those the values of true freedom?

What if I simply do not trust the commands I have been given?  I am fairly confident that if I am struck on one cheek and I turn the other, I will be struck again.  Loving your neighbor as yourself sounds fine, but proximity is not a testament of character.  There is no guarantee that those who come into your life will be trustworthy or deserving of our love.  Yet, the world is a strong witness that our legacies of distrust and fighting back lead to a spiral of violence and bigotry.  The world does not turn more merciful by waiting for the other guy to be merciful.

Finally, perhaps I am not like Jesus because he loved everyone.  He did not just love those he chose and were closest to him.  Mary Magdalene had seven demons within her, yet she became the first witness of the resurrection.  Jesus welcomed all from tax collectors, prostitutes and fishermen who could not fish.   And he loved them all.  Perhaps that seems too exhausting.  Yet, occasionally I have had the privilege as a priest to have complete strangers come to me and tell a story of heartbreak.  I have not been drained by the experience, but glad to share good news of a God whose love was stronger than death.  Loving everyone is a wonderful expectation to bring to the world.

The truth is, when I am rid of my excuses, and I summon my courage, hope and mercy, I have accomplished or said yes to the very best moments of my life.  When I have let the Spirit of Jesus Christ overcome every fear and prejudice, I have at least brushed against the beauty of the divine.  When I am more like Jesus, I am at my happiest and most fulfilled.

The beatitude about mercy is telling.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”  Usually, we think that it only means that if we show mercy to others, God will show us mercy as well.  But perhaps, there is a promise as well that if we show mercy, others will be merciful.  That in this kingdom of God, there can be a field of mercy giving us space to exercise the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  Filled with Easter hope, Easter joy, Easter mercy and Easter love, we can allow the Spirit of Christ that has been poured into us to be shared with one another.  Let those of us who have had the Spirit of Jesus Christ breathed into us, breathe nothing but that Spirit to others.