The Holy Spirit in Jesus

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It was the Spirit's task to make the historical Jesus conscious of his identity as the beloved Son of God. Becoming like us, human beings, in every way, Jesus had to grow to full human maturity - spiritually, intellectually/psychologically, physically (see Lk.2:52). Unhindered by sin, and having the Spirit for tutor, Jesus would grow steadily in self-knowledge and in the knowledge of his Father.

Later during his public ministry, Jesus would share with his disciples that the Holy Spirit "is the Spirit of Truth; he will guide you into all the truth; he will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you." (Jn.16:13). Jesus knew the truth of these words from personal experience, for from his earliest years, the Spirit had been guiding him "into all truth", revealing to him "what is mine", and that "all that the Father has is mine".

In his excellent book, The Conspiracy of God, Fr.John Haughey, SJ describes this growth of Jesus' self-knowledge with wonderful insight: Jesus discovered who he was by discovering that God was his Father! Mary, Joseph, the Jewish Scriptures and Tradition, all had their part to play in teaching him this, but his principal teacher was always the Holy Spirit. As the personality of God became manifestly that of a loving Father, Jesus learned that he was a beloved son. (His later examples of the "birds of the air", "the lilies of the field", etc., were insights received in his own youth.) Gradually, the Spirit taught him to differentiate between himself and others, and to understand that he was God's son in a way no one else ever was, or would be. Thereby he discovered his mission too.

As Jesus grew invincibly convinced of his special sonship, he began ardently to want what his Father wanted, and to see things from the side of God, the way his Father viewed them. (Because of this habit, he one day would rebuke Peter for being "a hindrance" to him, by thinking man's thoughts rather than God's - Mt.16:23). The Spirit within Jesus taught him the mysteries of the Kingdom, and his own place in it. He began to see that he had a completely unique role to play in the Kingdom, that because of his relationship with his Father, others would be drawn into the Kingdom. He became convinced that because he was God's beloved Son, he was uniquely qualified to be the expected Messiah, and also that this meant he had to take on the role of the Suffering Servant (Isa.52:13 - 53:12).

A moment of special significance for Jesus was his baptism in the river Jordan. While he "was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased'" (Lk.3:22). This experience was for Jesus the consoling confirmation of his Sonship, and also his investiture ceremony as the Messiah. Henceforth in his ministry, Jesus would always be recognized as one "led by the Spirit" (Lk.4:1).

From the first moment of his ministry, by having the Spirit lead him to the desert to be tempted, God's word teaches us that Jesus' ministry is a confrontation between God's Spirit and the Evil Spirit (Mt.4:1). The Spirit of the Lord was upon him to bring Good News to the poor (Lk.4:18), and so he could free the devil's victims by the Spirit of God (Mt.12:28). Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection was the final resolution of the dramatic power-struggle that had long been going on in the spirit world. Jesus' death was the ultimate act of exorcism, the act to which all subsequent conquests over the power of evil would have recourse for their efficacy.

Moved by his "spirit of sonship" (Rom.8:15), Jesus ceaselessly painted the majesty, the beauty, and the greatness of heart and mind of his Father, using parables (e.g. of the prodigal son), other teachings (e.g. about the Father making his sun to shine and rain to fall on the good and the bad), and miracles (feeding the crowds, innumerable healings, even raisings from the dead), and thus he always glorified his Father.

Finally, on the Cross, under the action of the Holy Spirit, Jesus revealed his own and his Father's great love for humanity. Commenting on a text from the Letter to the Hebrews ("Christ, who through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without blemish to God" - 9:14), Pope John Paul II writes in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit: "In the sacrifice of the Son of Man, the Holy Spirit is present and active just as he acted in Jesus' conception and birth, his hidden life, and his public ministry. On the way to Golgotha, the same Christ Jesus in his own humanity opened himself totally to this action of the Spirit-Paraclete, who from suffering enables eternal salvific love to spring forth."

Likewise, the Spirit acted "in a special way" in the resurrection of Jesus as well, for it is the Holy Spirit who is "the Giver of Life". Pursuing this line of thinking, St. Paul assures us: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit which dwells in you" (Rom.8:11).

What the Spirit did in Jesus is the model for what the Spirit wants to do in the life of every Christian. He wants to fashion our self-identity, to make us conscious of who we are as "a new creation in Christ" (2Cor.5:17). He wants thereby to give us a clear sense of our personal mission or role in the Church and in the world. And he wants to equip us with the inner power to fulfill our Christian vocation, so that we become "conquerors" (Rom.8:37) over all difficulties, sufferings and trials, and find at all times our true fulfillment, inner peace and joy.

The saints, ordinary men and women like us, show us that such a "life in the Spirit" is possible even in today's world. What is needed is that, like Pope John XXIII, we too pray with eager faith, "Come Holy Spirit, renew your wonders in our day as by a new Pentecost!" Amen.

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