Pentecost Sunday - Homily 3

Homily 3 - 2011

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the risen Jesus, is simply the loving of God personified – it is the love stance, the love energy, the love power of God, abroad in the world. Today’s gospel showed the Spirit wonderfully exemplified in the risen Jesus.The first words of the murdered one were simply, Peace be with you. Jesus’ saving response to the savage hostility of the whole web of people complicit in his murder was simply to offer peace.  

More than that, he offered to the disciples the Spirit, the love-energy, that empowered him. He invited them to open themselves to that energy, that Spirit, to open their hearts to it, to receive it into themselves: He breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit – receive the love-energy of God personified. Only then did he move on to say that, once saturated in that Spirit of God, if they forgave people’s sins, those people would indeed be freed up and released from their sin, their hostility: Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.

To the extent that disciples would forgive, they would share with Jesus in the mission on which the Father had sent him: to set the world free from the hostility that twists and distorts the hearts of everyone, and that fuels the world’s never-ending, all too predictable, cycle of violence: As the Father sent me, so I send you. That is: Go out and forgive; forgive those who hurt you, those who are not yet sorry, those who, refusing forgiveness, may never be sorry – just as I did.

I think it worth noting a few points, because forgiveness is a tricky business. Left to our own devices, I am not sure that we can forgive, [genuinely forgive, that is]. To forgive someone who has hurt us deeply can feel like compromising our personal dignity, and surrendering our sense of self-worth. Perhaps even harder is to forgive someone who has deeply hurt one whom we love deeply or for whom we feel responsible. It can seem like betraying them.

Does God command us or expect us to forgive? I don’t think that true adult love commands or lays expectations on anyone. God will love me whether I forgive or not. But, in loving us, God offers us the possibility to forgive, and the gentle invitation to forgive – because, until we forgive, we are not free. We remain fixated on, and our attitudes remain dependent on, the one who has hurt us. And unaddressed hurt turns into resentment, and resentment into bitterness, and true happiness and peace elude us. And, perhaps, when we forgive someone who has deeply hurt one we love, we may find, to our surprise, that we have not betrayed our loved one at all. Nor have we compromised our personal dignity but found it.

When God invites us to freedom by offering us the possibility to forgive those who have hurt us, God invites, not from outside, as it were, but from inside. Remember the order of things in today’s Gospel. First, and absolutely essential, because without it, we’re powerless, Jesus’ unconditional offer of peace – twice. Then, he urged them: Receive the Holy Spirit: receive my love, my total forgiveness, open your hearts to it, let yourselves be soaked in it, and gradually transformed by it. Then, and only then, see what happens.  

As we let ourselves be loved by God, as we receive God’s love personified, we slowly become like God. To forgive becomes possible. More than that, we begin to notice that to forgive becomes desirable. To the extent that our forgiving happens, we become free and our world begins to change. Jesus’ mission to save the world gains momentum.