SOME NOTES ON THE PENTECOST
(A biblical refection on the PENTECOST SUNDAY [Year A], 31 May 2020)
First Reading: Acts 2:1-11
Psalms: Psalm 104:1,24,29-34; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13; Gospel Reading: John 20:19-23
The Scripture Text
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:1-11 RSV)
“Pentecost” was the second of the three most important of the annual feasts in the Jewish calendar. The name Pentecost denotes the fiftieth day. It occurred seven weeks after Passover and was primarily a feast of thanksgiving for the harvest: the first fruits of the wheat crop were offered to God on that day. Later on the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai was commemorated on this feast day. Seven weeks, a full season of growth, have been completed: it is time for harvest. The seed which had died in the soil of Calvary had now produced a hundred-fold. And the word of God which was inscribed for Moses on tablets of stone is now at home in the hearts of the disciples who live by the new commandment of Christ’s love.
All Jewish men, not legitimately impeded, were expected to come to Jerusalem, to the temple, for the feast. Hundreds of Jews from outside of Palestine also came, and the city was usually full to overflowing. It was very fitting therefore that this feast-day was chosen for the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles/disciples. The Christian religion was to be universal, and the gift of tongues showed its universality. The law given by God to Moses was for the Jews only; the new law, given by Christ, and confirmed by the power of the Holy Spirit, was for all men. The vast gathering of Jews from Palestine and from all nations was a very suitable occasion on which to proclaim publicly the message of Christ given through the mouth of Simon Peter.
Pentecost is the fulfillment of the old dispensation and the first harvesting from the seeds planted by Christ. The mission of Jesus blossomed into the mission of the Church. And the power of the Holy Spirit which filled Jesus is now at work in the disciples. It is the birthday of the Church. The immediate impact on the apostles was radical and dramatic. Previously they were locked behind closed doors, fearful and unsure of what to do. Now they emerge in broad daylight, full of courage, charged with conviction, with a very clear sense of their mission. The promised power from on high has descended upon them.
The Apostles had already received the Holy Spirit on Christ’s first appearance to them after His resurrection (John 20:22). But on Pentecost day the descent of the Holy Spirit was a public manifestation intended to impress and amaze the crowds of local and Hellenist Jews, and proselytes who thronged Jerusalem on the great festive occasion. The signs and wonders that manifested His coming brought these Jews in huge crowds to the place where the Apostles were staying, and immediately the gift of tongues was used by the Apostle to explain the occurrences. It was a marvel wrought by God, a necessary consequence of the sojourn of Christ among them. He was the Christ whom the Jews had crucified but whom God had raised from the dead, thus proving He was the promised Messiah and His own beloved Son. Christ had chosen the Apostles to bring His Good News to all nations – the good news that all men were once more reconciled to God their Creator, and were now adopted children of God and heirs to heaven.
Today was the day chosen for the opening of this mission of the Apostles. That they were backed by the divine power of the Holy Spirit was proved, not only the gift of tongues by more especially by the change His coming wrought on the Apostles. From this day forward they were men dedicated to one purpose and to one purpose only, to bring the good news, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the world.
The proper word to describe the effect of Pentecost is enthusiasm … which literally means God-is-in. God is at home in the souls of the disciples of Jesus and stirs up in them a clear sense of their new identity as children of God. Later (Acts 2:14-40), when Simon Peter – representing the eleven – preached Christ, crucified, raised from the tomb by the power of the Father, and now seated at His right hand in heaven, he really raised the Christian standard aloft. He and his fellow-Apostles (including Matthias and Paul later) gave their lives gladly to plant it throughout the Roman empire. The remaining twenty six chapters of the book of Acts and the inspired letters of the Apostles tell the story of the growth of the infant Church. It was brought about by frail and mortal men, turned in spiritual heroes by the power of the Holy Spirit.
More than twenty centuries separate us from those heroic men of God, but the truth of their labors is with us still thanks to the same Holy Spirit who has remain with the Church down through the years. From generation to generation the message and the means of salvation have been handed down, sometimes through periods of peace and evident progress, but more often through years of persecution and apparent near-extermination. The Church survived because men of God valued eternal life, and the Church as the means of reaching it, more than their own comfort or personal safety.
Our own generation too needs men of principle, men of generosity, men who will put the eternal values before personal conveniences or earthly gain. The Church today has her enemies. They shout loud and long – the same centuries old themes are put to some of the present-day pop music. But we need not fear. The voice of the Holy Spirit is still as strong as it was on that first Christian Pentecost day in Jerusalem. His powers are divine and will never diminish. He is still at the helm of the barque of Simon Peter and will continue to bring millions to the shores of the eternal kingdom as he has done during the past two thousand years.
Prayer: Come. Holy Spirit, enkindle in the hearts of the faithful the fire of divine love. Amen.
Jakarta, 29 May 2020
A Christian Pilgrim