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Sunday Scripture: Receive the Holy Spirit

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June 12, 2011

By Sister Betty J. Lillie, SC

Pentecost Sunday:  Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23.

Let us take as a focus for this reflection the spirit of the feast of Pentecost as we hear it in our first reading. As the disciples were gathered together in one place on the day of Pentecost, a sound from heaven like a rush of a mighty wind filled the house where they were sitting. But in this case the Spirit was not in the wind.


Then there appeared to them tongues of fire resting on them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. In this passage in Acts, Luke thinks of the gift of tongues as the gift of foreign languages, and some like to see this as a reversal of the phenomenon of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). To the people of Jerusalem in apostolic times the event was a source of bewilderment. 


The sound like a rushing wind attracted people to the house. Jews from many countries had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, and they were filled with wonder at a group of Galileans speaking to each nation of them in their native tongue about the mighty works of God. What could this possibly mean? 


Peter emerged as a leader and addressed the crowd. Quoting the prophet Joel, he pointed to the Messianic Age in terms of the last days when the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, not just on some special group of persons.  John the Baptist had foretold a baptism by the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). Here Luke links the Gospel tradition with its fulfillment in the apostolic preaching ministry. 


In our Gospel reading we have the commission of Jesus to the Apostles, and we see that He joined to it the forgiveness of sins. That ministry was enlivened by Jesus by His breathing His life into it. The term breath here derives from the same concept as the wind on the day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit is connected with both events. Further, Jesus says twice, “Peace be with you.” The great gift of this sacrament is the gift of peace, and it is in that context that it was given to the church.


Jesus’ Spirit enlivens the church and gives it many gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-13). There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of service, but the same Lord. There are varieties of working, but the same God.  All the gifts are of the same value, all are needed and all are for the body of Christ, which is the church. 


In that reasoning we notice a suggestion of a Trinitarian mindset. Spirit, Lord and God are at the heart of the varieties of gifts, and so the gifts of one member come from the same source as the gifts of another.


With the psalmist we can praise the marvelous works of the Lord: “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all” (Psalm 104). 


Sister Betty Jane is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio. 

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