Pentecost Sunday


Commentary on Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7,12-13 or Romans 8:8-17; John 20:19-23

TODAY’S GREAT AND JOYFUL FEAST rounds off the tremendous mysteries that we have been commemorating since Holy Week – the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus culminates in the sending of the Spirit of the Father and the Son on his disciples. As has been said previously, we are not dealing here merely with separate historical incidents but with one reality – the extraordinary intervention of God into our lives by what we can only call the “mystery” of Christ. And today’s feast indicates that it is an ongoing reality, which still touches our lives every single day.
Two models, one reality

What we said, too, of the Ascension last week applies with equal force to the meaning of Pentecost. In other words, we would be making a mistake to read the Scripture texts too literally, otherwise we will run into unnecessary conflicts. As with the Ascension, our traditional catechisms tends to identify Pentecost only with the version in the Acts (the First Reading of today’s Mass). But in today’s Gospel, which takes place on Easter Sunday, Jesus, before his Ascension, gives his Spirit to his disciples and the mission which follows from that. The two accounts are two different ways of describing the same reality. Actual time and place are not important.
A new creation

Let us go to the Gospel first. It is “the first day of the week”, that is, the Sunday after Good Friday, the day of the Resurrection – or Easter Sunday. Jesus’ disciples are cowering in fear behind locked doors. As colleagues of Jesus they are afraid they may have to face arrest or even worse. Suddenly, there is Jesus among them. He gives them the usual Jewish greeting ‘Shalom’ but here it is filled with meaning. “Peace with you” can be taken as a wish (‘Peace be with you’) or more truly (‘Peace is with you’). In the presence of Jesus we experience a kind of peace which only he can give.

It is no wonder that the disciples, who just now were terrified, are filled with joy. There are two qualities that always accompany the presence of Jesus in our lives – peace and joy.

Passing the baton

Now comes the mission: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” The baton is being passed. They have a job to do and it is exactly what Jesus himself came to do – to establish the Kingdom on earth.

Jesus now breathes on them. In Greek the word for ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ are the same. The breathing recalls God breathing life into the dust and bringing the first human being into existence. Here too there is a kind of creation, as the disciples are re-created into the ‘new person’ that Paul will speak about in his letters, a person filled with the Spirit of Jesus and mandated to continue his work.

Agents of unity and peace

And how is that work expressed? “For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” This is their job – to be agents of reconciliation. Reconciliation of people everywhere with their God and reconciliation with each other as brothers and sisters, children of one common Father. Reconciliation means the healing of wounds, of all forms of division. This is the work of the Kingdom. It is what we are called to do.

We use this text for the institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation but I believe that the meaning of the words includes this but goes much further than just referring to a Sacrament.
A mind-blowing experience

Let us now turn to the second Spirit-experience as it is described in Luke’s account in the Acts (First Reading). This is sometimes called the Exodus account, for it reminds us of the great event commemorating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

Here, too, there are significant elements:
a. There is the powerful wind, which, of course, is the Spirit and which, in John’s gospel, is translated as “breath”.
b. There is the fire – the tongues of fire over each one in the place. This, as in the Exodus narrative, indicates God’s power and presence. We think of the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses and gave him his mission to his people. It reminds us of the pillar of fire, which, by night, accompanied and guided the Jews on their wanderings through the desert. They knew they were not alone. Extraordinary change

And what an extraordinary result this experience had on the disciples! These men, huddled fearfully behind locked doors are almost blown from the room. No longer afraid, they have an almost uncontrollable urge to share what they have experienced, to share their knowledge but, even more, their experience of Jesus. Threats of prison or torture in no way intimidate them.

A message for all

Together with this, they are given a power to communicate. Their message is heard and understood by all. The linguistic barriers of Babel have collapsed. This is less, I believe, a miracle of instantaneous language-learning than a way of saying that the message of Jesus is for all and can be understood by all. And this is so because, deep down, the message of God through Jesus speaks to the deepest desires of each one’s heart. “Our hearts can find no rest until they rest in you.”

There is no longer a Chosen People. Or, to put it another way, now all are God’s people and all are called. The responses, of course, will be uneven because we are invited, not conscripted, into the Kingdom.
Effects of the Spirit

What are the effects of the Spirit in our lives? That is expressed very well in the Second Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

First, Paul says we cannot even call Jesus “Lord” unless we have his Spirit. To call Jesus “Lord” is not just uttering a pious phrase; it implies a real faith in who Jesus is and the proof of that will be in the way we live our lives.

Special gifts for each one

Second, the Spirit is the source of the special gifts (or ‘charisms’) which each member of the community receives. The Source of the gifts is one – the Spirit of God and that is what unites together all those who receive them into one community. But there is a huge variety of gifts. It is important to note that the gifts are not given as a personal grace for oneself. They are rather special abilities by which each one serves the needs of the community. We have all to work together, using our gifts, to build up the community to which we belong.

We are many in number but, through the working of the Spirit, we become like one body, in fact, we are the Body of Christ. Just as one body has many limbs and organs working together as a harmonious unit, so we as the Body of Christ each make our distinct contribution to the life and work of the community. “In one Spirit, we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.”
The way to freedom

The Spirit is a way of true freedom and liberation; his is not a way of slavery, compulsion, addiction, greed or fear. Through the Spirit there is a close, warm, confident relationship with God who can be boldly addressed by the intimate term “Abba” (Papa). Filled with the Spirit, we are in the fullest sense children of God, living images of our Father.

The Spirit makes us co-heirs with Christ to “suffer with him that we may also be glorified with him “. The suffering does not arise from restrictions on our freedom but because, in our total commitment to truth, love, genuine freedom and human dignity, we are prepared to pay any price, even, if necessary, the surrender of life itself. We could not be truly happy otherwise.
Gifts to be shared

We radiate that Spirit and by our word and example invite others to share it. The gifts of the Spirit are not for ourselves: they are to be shared. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, as we have seen, the disciples did not stay in that room luxuriating in what they had been given. They burst out to tell the world how much God loves everyone and how he wants everyone to experience that love. How he wants people liberated from the destructive constraints of the flesh to an unlimited blossoming in the Spirit.
OA071R, OA071, OA07

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