Commentary on the Readings of Pentecost

The Hebrew word ruah, the Greek pneuma, and the Latin spiritus all basically mean “air in motion,” “breath,” or “wind.” The root word is power. Apart from human and animal power, wind was the main observable energy source in the ancient world. Wind was seen as the ‘breath of God – our own breath coming from that life-giving Breath. It is also interesting to note that in the ancient understanding of wind and water and fire – and thus spirit – we find them possessing what we consider to be properties of liquids. Thus we have the idea of the spirit being poured out. (The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p. 88-89)

1st Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Pentecost (50 days since Passover; 7 weeks since planting time) originally was an agricultural feast of thanksgiving for the 1st grain harvest.  Later, it came to be also a celebration of the gift of the Law to Moses on Sinai.  Because it was the second of Judaism’s three major feasts (The others being Passover and Sukkoth, or Tabernacles.), Jews from all over Palestine and the Greek territories (the Diaspora) would have traveled to Jerusalem. Luke wants us to notice how this diverse group is the perfect place for the Spirit to be present in power.  (Celebration, May 2002)

Luke is also telling us this Pentecost story in such a way as to remind us of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist had promised that the Messiah would baptize “with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16). Here we see that the fire comes in tongues giving courage and meaning and understanding to the gift of speech.  In many ways this story is the reversal of the Babel story in Genesis 11: 1-9. At Babel, sin (self-importance and false pride) had brought confusion and defeat. Now with the power of God’s Holy Spirit we see a new universal outreach characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Also where there was fear and inaction, there is now new energy and boldness that is rooted in faith in the God of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is still available today; we also need this ability to understand each other despite differences. Luke’s writing is to encourage us to be open to the ongoing process of transformation that is Spirit!  (Birmingham, W & W Wrkbk Yr A, p. 336; Celebration, May ‘02)

2nd Reading: Galatians 5: 16-25

Here are some thoughts on Paul’s Flesh and Spirit:  These terms, flesh and spirit, which are often used to translate the Greek sarx and pneuma, have caused tragic misunderstandings of Paul’s theology.  In Romans (8: 6-9), Paul says, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace . . . the flesh is hostile to God . . . but you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit.”  Because of such passages and such translations, Paul has often been blamed for seeing the body and sex as sinful, evil.  This is unfortunate for it is far from what Paul has in mind when he uses the word, sarx.  He does not mean the physical, sexual part of a human. Sarx refers to the WHOLE human as he/she is enslaved to weakness and corruption.  (Even when Paul lists sexual ‘sins’ with prominence, he is saying that sexual abuse and misuse are symptoms of the whole person’s disorientation away from God, the true source of life.)

      The pneuma, or spirit, on the other hand, is the full human who is open to being influenced by God’s Spirit and charis, saving power.  Our whole being “every cell of our body, every moment of our mind is BOTH flesh and spirit.”  We are enslaved by the power of sin.  Or, we are liberated to grow into the image of God that we are intended to be.  If we allow ourselves to trust in our weak and corruptible self or other weak, corruptible selves, we miss living a life in tune with the God revealed in Jesus.  As our reading says, we are called to belong to Christ and to live in his Spirit.  (P. Tillich, Shaking of the Foundations, 133 and The Eternal Now, 48).  

Consider these fruits of the Spirit and how they take root in you.  Consider also how you see these fruits in each other, and in our church community…

The Gospel: John 20: 19-23

Jesus’ words in this Gospel apply not only to priests or to all believers.  As Christians, we are to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness.  How did He treat His friends after they deserted Him?  Jesus forgives and brings us into communion with God – Source of all life  – powerfully present in all life.  Jesus’ Way, Truth, and Life sets us free to BE Christ-in-the-world:  As disciples we are called to bear witness to His risen life by breaking the barriers of sin and division in our hearts and communities. True peace can only begin when we each begin to work with the Spirit to create situations around us of justice, dialogue, and truth – situations that lead to peace. The power of Spirit can enlarge and expand our hearts if we allow the Spirit of Jesus to grow within us – to breathe into us the power of forgiveness – the power to welcome others in his name – the power to transform the world one heart at a time – starting with our own. (Celebration, May 2002)

From John Kavaungh, “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :  If Pentecost was the start of the church, it was a birth out of frailty. The believers were huddled in fear behind closed doors. Yet Pentecost unleashed a courageous power. Driven by wind and fire, the followers of Jesus were set loose upon the world to make bold proclamation. The Spirit brought unity, not only in a shared sense of poverty and smallness, but in the common experience of one God in Jesus, one faith, and one baptism. It was a faith that also put believers in touch with their deepest humanity. They would now speak a universal tongue, in a way which could touch the hearts of people from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.  The unity of faith in Jesus is a subversive power; since Christ is our primary reality, his Spirit is a force that liberates us from any other bondage. 

“whose sins you retain are retained”  That night Jesus gave the Church the ministry of the forgiveness of sins through the Apostles (cf. CCC, no. 1461). By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, bishops and priests continue this ministry to forgive sins“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In this Sacrament, the priest acts in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church, to reconcile the sinner to both God and the Church. “When he celebrates the Sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. . . . The priest is the sign and instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner” (CCC, no. 1465).

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