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MAY 23, 2010: PENTECOST

Readings: 

Acts 2:1-11
I Corinthians 12:2b-7, 12-13
John 14:15-16, 23b-26

In his lectures and writings on the Fourth Gospel, Fr. Raymond Brown always stressed the uniqueness of John’s late first century work. It not only contained narratives and sayings of Jesus found nowhere else in the Christian Scriptures, John also championed a “church structure” quite different from his fellow evangelists. Brown coined the term “apostolic” churches for the communities of Mark, Matthew and Luke. These three Synoptic authors stressed the continuity of their writings with the preaching of Jesus’ first disciples. Their readers could be certain the theology put forth in those gospels was authentic because of the unbroken teaching line between the authors and the apostles who first proclaimed Jesus’ faith.

John never explicitly challenges this apostolic belief, but he proposes different criteria for the authenticity of his gospel. According to the Fourth Evangelist, Jesus’ followers can be certain they’re properly carrying on Jesus’ ministry both because they love one another and because they have the Holy Spirit guiding their lives of faith. He clearly states his love/spirit thesis in today’s pericope. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always . . . . I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” The Holy Spirit in each Christian is the only guarantee of authenticity he or she will ever need.

That’s why it’s essential for John’s risen Jesus to include the words, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” in his first post-resurrection appearance. Without the Spirit’s presence in the disciples’ lives, their faith is on shaky ground. The reception of the Spirit is far more important than a Christian’s relation with the apostles.

But before we falsely presume the other three gospel writers encourage their readers to root their faith only on “apostolic tradition” - with no need of the Spirit - listen carefully to Luke’s description of the Jerusalem Pentecost event. Out of the fire, noise and wind, the Spirit descends on the new Christian community and they “begin to speak in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

For Luke, this is the first step in the church integrating both Jews and Gentiles into its communities. Obviously if Jesus’ first disciples only follow his practice of preaching just to Jews, we Gentiles would either have been forced to convert to Judaism to be Jesus’ disciples, or find another way to channel our experience of God in our lives.

Though all the people Luke mentions in this pericope are Jews, they’re Jews living in countries outside Israel. As we know from the rest of Acts, the road to converting actual non-Jews from these countries will quickly be opened - by the power and insight of that same Spirit. Luke here is reminding his readers that all Christians need the Spirit, even the most apostolic of them.

Long before any gospel was written, Paul also recognized the necessity of the Spirit for all Christian churches. Without the gifts the Spirit gives to each individual, we wouldn’t be church. As he teaches his Corinthian community, it’s those gifts which mold us into the Body of Christ. “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.

The three subsequent, corrective letters of John assure us that the author of John’s gospel went a little “overboard” in his emphasis on the Spirit. Yet any Church which doesn’t recognize the necessity of the Spirit working in all believers, has gone just as “overboard” in its emphasis on authority.