It’s always interesting when our Sunday readings present us with different theologies.
This especially creates problems for us Greek thinkers: people who’ve been trained to analyze whatever we’re thinking about. We tear it mentally apart, zeroing in on just one dimension at a time, filtering it through our brains with little or no regard for its other dimensions, all the time trying to come up with an either/or conclusion about the object on which we’re concentrating. One of my philosophy profs once remarked that we in first world countries have a high standard of living precisely because we think Greek. The classic Greek philosophers who developed this analytical thinking process would be proud of us.
But this way of thinking creates a huge difficulty for us when we read and study Scripture. Our sacred authors didn’t think Greek; they thought “semitically.” Instead of analyzing, Semites synthesize. They don’t mentally tear apart the object of their thought; they try to bring together as many of its aspects in their minds as they possibly can at one time, even contradictory aspects. The end result of this process is to surface as many both/and statements about something as they can conjure up. Perhaps the best proponent of Semitic thought is Tevye, the hero of Fiddler on the Roof, who’s best known line is, “But on the other hand . . . .” There’s always “another hand” for our biblical authors, another way of looking at every person, idea and situation they explore.
This is especially true today when Luke and John treat the Holy Spirit.
Though the role of the Spirit was greatly reduced once the church became “institutionalized,” that wasn’t the case in the early Christian community. The unknown author of I Peter emphasizes the Sprit’s significance in today’s second reading. “Put to death in the flesh,” he writes, “he (Jesus) was brought to life in the Spirit.” The author’s convinced that it’s only through the work of the Spirit that we experience the risen Jesus in our lives. The Spirit’s constant presence is essential. But how do we get that Spirit?
Luke, in our Acts pericope, believes for that to happen there must be some tie-in with the “apostles,” with those who are the original “witnesses” to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Only when Peter and John come up to Samaria do Philip’s recently baptized converts “receive the Holy Spirit.”
On the other hand, John is certain the Spirit’s arrival has nothing to do with someone connecting to an authority system. For him, this essential Christian phenomenon simply depends on whether or not we love Jesus and keep his commandments. It’s at that point that we receive “. . . another Advocate . . . the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept . . . .” The Spirit isn’t mediated by anyone except the risen Jesus. The Spirit arrives in our lives because of our relationship with Jesus and those around us, not because of our relationship with an institution.
We’re hearing two opposing theologies today. As Greek-thinkers we’re committed to finding out which is right and which is wrong. Yet in our analytical quest to discover the “truth,” we can never forget that once we open our Bibles, we’re dealing with Semitic-thinking theologians, inspired writers who aren’t concerned with answering such questions. They’d cringe if they ever found out we’re reading their books simply to come up with either/or conclusions that we can fit into our catechisms.
Our sacred authors believe that the Spirit’s so deeply a part of our faith experience that no one theology can give us all the answers. If they could live their faith within that open frame of mind, why can’t we?