JUNE 4TH, 2017: PENTECOST
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
"Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God."
Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."
If you’re participating in a Bible Trivia contest, how would you answer the question, “On what day did the Holy Spirit come down on Jesus’ disciples?”
The correct answer is, “I don’t know.” At least two different dates are given in today’s liturgical Scriptures alone. In our Acts passage, Luke tells us it was on the Jewish feast of Pentecost – seven weeks after Passover; while John puts the event on Easter Sunday night – several days after Passover. You have no choice but to pay your money and take your pick.
Those who first collected our Christian sacred writings and eventually gathered them into one book couldn’t have appreciated our problem. Falling back on their Semitic “both/and” way of thinking, they expected to find such contradictions. More concerned with the implications of our faith than with exact historical happenings, they often chose a date that would convey the meaning of a particular event, ignoring the actual calendar day that event took place. That’s certainly why Luke puts the Holy Spirit event on Pentecost.
The Jewish feast of “Weeks” - or Pentecost - commemorates the Israelites entering into a covenant with Yahweh on Mt. Sinai. It’s that agreement which formally creates the Chosen People. No longer just a ragtag band of runaway slaves, they’re now Yahweh’s people.
In a similar way, the arrival of the Holy Spirit transforms Jesus’ disciples into the new people of God, committed to carrying on his ministry. This seems to be why Luke makes a big thing out of the many foreign pilgrims understanding the disciples’ message in their native tongues. Throughout Acts, with the Spirit’s help, these followers are going to spread Jesus’ message to the “ends of the earth.”
John, on the other hand, picks Easter Sunday night as the time for the Spirit’s arrival because of his conviction that the Spirit is an integral part of Jesus’ (and our) dying and rising, something we especially demonstrate in our forgiveness of others.
But there are many more scriptural implications of the Spirit than just these two. Paul shows that in our I Corinthians pericope. For the Apostle, it’s precisely the risen Jesus’ Spirit which provides us with the gifts that mold us into the Body of Christ. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit,” he writes, “. . . who produces all of them in everyone.” The key insight is his well-known teaching: “As the body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” If the Spirit doesn’t gift each of Jesus’ followers in a unique way, the risen Jesus would be “bodiless.” No one Christian can completely convey Christ’s image. It takes all of us to pull that off, each one employing the gifts the Spirit’s given him or her.
Paul’s Corinthian experience of the Spirit’s gifts creating conflicts in the church dovetails with Luke’s Pentecost images of the Spirit: wind, noise and fire. Each one not only causes confusion, but also creates situations we’d prefer to avoid. Yet if we’re serious about being the Body of Christ, we have to be willing to accept and deal with such problems, a sign we accept the Spirit’s gifts.
Perhaps the most important line in today’s three readings is Paul’s remark, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” When we refuse to put up with the wind, noise and fire which accompany the Spirit in our lives, we’re also refusing to do the good which comes from being the Body of Christ.
If we have lots of peace and tranquility in our particular church, we’re probably squelching the Spirit.