by Br Julian McDonald cfc

The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability. Acts 2: 1-11
“There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit…the Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.” 1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13
Jesus breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20: 19-23

Before I offer a reflection on the Pentecost readings, I want to suggest that our religious education has sometimes left us with an incorrect understanding of the word “Advocate” as it is applied to the Holy Spirit. In light of the fact that we are loved by God everlastingly and unconditionally, we don’t need the Holy Spirit to plead to God on our behalf or to present our needs and wants to God. I suspect that when John recorded Jesus as telling the disciples that he would send the “Advocate, the Spirit of truth” to them, he understood Jesus to be telling them that the Holy Spirit would be God’s advocate, encouraging, inspiring and motivating them to get to work on their mission to proclaim God’s message of love for the whole world: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness. And you, too, will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the outset” (John 15: 26-27). We all know that the intensity of the commitments we make sometimes wanes. We need a bit of a nudge to pick up the pace of the missions and ministries to which, as disciples of Jesus, we have been commissioned. That’s when God’s Advocate, the Holy Spirit, steps up to give us a nudge. Like us, the very first disciples of Jesus needed a nudge of encouragement from the Holy Spirit to keep them on pace and on track as they went about proclaiming the message of God’s limitless, unwavering and unconditional love for the world.
Our readings this Sunday are launched with an intense and graphic account by Luke of the first Pentecost. The coming of God’s Spirit on the group of approximately 120 male and female disciples of Jesus, who had faithfully and patiently remained in Jerusalem in expectation of the coming of the promised Advocate, coincided with the arrival of a large number of Jewish pilgrims who had come from countries near and far to which they had been scattered. Many of those pilgrims heard the commotion of the strong wind that accompanied the arrival of God’s creative Spirit and, no doubt, the excitement that issued from the mouths of the 120 disciples as they saw tongues of fire descending on the heads of one another. And when the pilgrims “from every nation under heaven” heard in their own language, all those men and women, whom they were able to identify as Galileans, proclaiming “the marvels of God”, they could not believe their ears. Luke concluded his account by pointedly noting that some of the spectators who had heard the disciples speaking with conviction saw God present in what they had seen and heard while others dismissed it all as the ravings of crazed drunkards. That mixed reception, from Luke’s perception, was no different from that given to Jesus as he went about his teaching and preaching.
Luke made it clear that what took place that day was the fulfilment of the promise Jesus had made to his disciples before he left them. The proclamation they made of “the marvels of God” had not been planned or rehearsed. They were an expression of new-found conviction and fearlessness that the Spirit had inspired in the disciples who had suddenly come to see themselves as members of a unified community, sharing in a common endeavour. That occurred without their being able to put into words what had happened to them. The boundless enthusiasm that emanated from the disciples, the sound of the powerful wind and the descending tongues of fire combined to signal that what we now call Pentecost was a new creation, parallel to the first creation described in Genesis when God breathed over the chaos. The state of the lives of the disciples before the coming of the Holy Spirit was tantamount to confusion and chaos.
Today’s liturgical calendar lists alternatives for both today’s second reading and gospel-reading. My comments on the gospel-reading will be on John 20: 19-23, in which John describes the handing on of God’s Spirit to the disciples taking place on Easter evening when Thomas was absent from the group. We might note that the shape of our liturgical calendar comes from Luke, who calculated Ascension Day as coming 40 days after Passover and Pentecost 10 days after that. John, the theologian, gives us a theological account of the passing on of the Spirit. The resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples when they were locked away in the upper room on the evening of his resurrection. He did not walk through a wall or a locked door, but appeared from his heavenly glory where he was already in the presence of his Father. He could come from there whenever he wished. He appeared to his disciples, gave them the gift of peace and breathed the gift of the Holy Spirit on them. It is significant that John describes the Spirit as a gift of the Father handed on to the disciples by the risen Jesus. Noteworthy is the fact that Jesus gave the disciples not only the gift of the Spirit, but also the power to forgive sins. By his death and resurrection, Jesus had already overcome the cosmic power of Sin that had gripped the world. That done, he turned to his disciples (and, through them, to us) and invested them to continue his mission by forgiving one another’s sins. Note that forgiveness is not confined to sacramental reconciliation. Integral to our identity as Christians, as disciples of Jesus is our ability and readiness to forgive those who offend against us. That has been conferred on us by Jesus himself. In reaching out in forgiveness to those who hurt us we continue the victory of Jesus won at Easter and contribute to the building of peace in our world. Moreover, we have the nudging of God’s Spirit, the Advocate to support us. And we have opportunities to forgive on a daily basis.
Our world is in dire straits and very much in need of a new Pentecost. We live in a world that seems incapable of speaking the only common language available to us – the language of love! We so easily use our cultural languages as weapons of exclusion. We seem incapable of forgiving at a national level and resort to settling differences with personal guns and knives and nationally directed bombs and missiles. Some countries have elected leaders who cultivate among their citizens bigotry, prejudice and hostility for those they label as different and, consequently, as inferior. Innocent people are being herded into refugee camps and denied asylum by countries with abundance that could easily be shared. The gift of the first Pentecost was that uneducated disciples paralysed by grief and confusion were fired unexpectedly with a vision and hope for a future created by God’s Spirit. They found within themselves the ability to rise above self-interest and reach across difference and fear to others in need. We are invited at Pentecost to be agents of God’s Spirit. We might have to let that very Spirit be God’s Advocate to nudge us out of complacency, listlessness or disinterest.