This Sunday the Easter Season draws to a close with the celebration of Pentecost. We celebrate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Church and the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit within the Church. This became the birthday of the Church, the day that the Church went public and invited the world to share in the life of Christ. The readings call us to reflect on the place of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in each of our lives. When the disciples went public with the “Good News” for the first time after the Lord left them, they found that Jesus had kept His word through the action of the Holy Spirit, and indeed had not left them orphaned. Being Church is only possible because of the action and power of the Holy Spirit. It is as true today as it was true back in Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago.
First Reading: Acts 2: 1-11
1 When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. 2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. 3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. 6 At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? 9 We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, 11 both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
NOTES on First Reading:
The reading is taken from the introduction to Luke’s Pentecostal narrative. It is likely that the narrative telescopes events that took place over a longer period of time and on a less dramatic scale. Luke’s purpose in the narrative is to present a transition from the story of Jesus’ ministry to the story of the ministry of the Church while maintaining a sense of continuity and showing both to be the action of God.
* 2:1 The “day of Pentecost had fully come” in Greek is an expression that implies fulfillment. In English, use of the singular, “day,” as found in some translations probably is a poor way of conveying the idea that involves the end of an extended time of waiting, perhaps, for many days. It refers not only to the end of the festival period but more pointedly to the awaited “day” of the prophet’s forecast (vv 17-21) and the master’s promise (1:5-8; Luke 24:49).
* 2:2-3 Wind and spirit are associated in John 3:8. The sound of a great rush of wind is acts as a herald of a new action of God in the history of salvation. These verses portray a theophany of the Spirit with a strong resemblance to the theophany marking the gathering of Israel in the Septuagint (Greek) version of Isaiah 66:15-20. See also Exodus 19:16 for related theophany traditions.
* 2:3 In Exodus 19:18 fire symbolizes the presence of God and initiates the covenant on Sinai. Here the Holy Spirit acts upon the apostles, preparing them to proclaim the new covenant with the unique gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38).
* 2:4 The Holy Spirit in the pre-Lucan story was the charismatic power of early Christians (1 Cor 12-14), the source of miracles and ecstasies and insights and powerful speech and prayer. Luke does not dwell overly much on this feature of the Spirit. Instead he broadens it into a comprehensive expression of the dynamism of the mission (4:8,31; 6:10; 8:29,39; 10:19-20; 11:12; 13:2-4; 20:22-23; 21:4,11). The Spirit becomes the primary force in the expansion of the Church (10:19; 11:12; 15:28). Ecstatic prayer in praise of God is interpreted in Acts 2:6,11 as speaking in foreign languages, symbolizing the worldwide mission of the church. Later in Christian tradition there will be a distinction made between ecstatic prayer in praise of God (jubilation) and preaching or teaching in one language and being understood in another (tongues). In the early church such a distinction was not made.
* 2:5 Luke describes a gathering of Israel just as at Mt. Sinai where they received the law through Moses. Now the gathered Israel will receive the new law from Jesus through the action of the Holy Spirit in the Apostles. Pentecost reverses the Tower of Babel event.
* 2:6 The word used for language, “dialektos,” means the language of a people or a region (1:19; 21:40: 22:2; 26:14).
* 2:9-11 These verses contain a stylized list of places that probably had been in use for considerable time before Luke incorporated it into the narrative. In general the locations form a broad sweep from east to west.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13
3b No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
12 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. 13 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.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 12:3b The reading begins with the last part of verse 3. Faith, the ability to recognize Jesus as Lord, is itself a gift of the Spirit.
* 12:4-6 There are some features common to all charisms (gifts), despite their diversity: all are gifts (charismata), grace from outside ourselves; all are forms of service (diakoniai), an expression of their purpose and effect; and all are workings (energemata), in which God is at work. In an early example of “appropriation” Paul associates each of these aspects with what later theology will call one of the persons of the Trinity.
*12:7 As all of the gifts have a common origin they also have a common goal and purpose.
*12:12-30 The idea of society as a body was common and widespread in the ancient world but it is not a likely source for the concept as Paul uses it for the Church. He tended to see society as characterized by division and predicated “body” of the Christian community precisely to emphasize its organic unity. The image of a body also serves to explain Christ’s relationship with believers (1 Cor 12:12). 1 Cor 12:13 applies this model to the church. In baptism all of us, despite our diversity are integrated into one organism, Christ Himself. Verses 14-26 discuss the need for diversity of function among the parts of a body without causing a threat to its unity.
*12:12 The many members share one existence in Christ who is life for each of them.
* 12:13 The use of the aorist tense (form of a verb in Greek, that expresses action without indicating its completion or continuation) in the verb indicates that this is not a specific reference to the Eucharist. Rather Paul is referring to the Spirit being constantly present within the Church itself. Indeed, it is the Spirit who makes it possible for the community of believers to be Church rather than just a social group.
Gospel Reading: John 20: 19-23
19 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.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
NOTES on Gospel Reading:
* 20:19-29 The appearances to the disciples, without or with Thomas (John 11:16; 14:5), have rough parallels in the other gospels only for John 20:19-23; see Luke 24:36-39; Mark 16:14-18. Implicitly from John 20:24 “the disciples” means ten of the Twelve, presumably in Jerusalem. “Peace be with you” echoes John 14:27. The theme of rejoicing in John 20:20 echoes John 16:22.
* 20:20 In contrast to John, Luke 24:39-40 mentions “hands and feet,” based on Psalm 22:17.
* 20:21 Though John does not use the noun in reference to them, this is where the Eleven really become Apostles (“those sent”); see John 17:18. Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, and Mark 16:15 also make a solemn mission or “sending” the subject of the post-resurrection appearances to the Eleven.
* 20:22 This event is John’s version of Pentecost. This action echoes Genesis 2:7, where God breathed on the first man and gave him life. Just as Adam’s life came from God, so now the disciples’ new spiritual life comes from Jesus. They are new creations in this Spirit of Jesus. See also the revivification of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. The apostles did truly receive the Holy Spirit at this time although the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not manifested until Pentecost.
* 20:23 Jesus here gives his apostles the task of continuing His ministry of reconciliation. They are charged with the task of forgiving sins as He had done during His ministry. This was defined by the Council of Trent as a scriptural basis for the sacrament of Penance. See also Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18.