This week’s first reading is an account of the Holy Spirit coming upon the apostles and empowering them to preach with confidence.
One of the interesting things is the parallel between how the Spirit came down in fire, loud sound, and personal revelation to the apostles on that Pentecost day and how Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai, where similar things happened. But the most important aspect of this reading is not the extraordinary phenomena of fire, wind, and the gift of tongues. Rather, the crucial point is the transformation that took place in the lives of the apostles, who chan-ged from timid souls cowering in a locked room to fearless witnesses of what Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection. These same changes occur today in all who receive the Holy Spirit. It is in this sense that Pentecost still happens, as those who live according to God’s Spirit experience the same life-transforming power of God that changed the apostles two thousand years ago.
The second reading this week ties the coming of the Holy Spirit to Baptism. Not only does everyone receive “the manifestation of the Spirit for some benefit,” but all are baptized into one body, where all “drink of one Spirit.” In like manner, the Gospel links the Holy Spirit with the forgiveness of sins—the sins wiped away at Baptism and the forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism. The Holy Spirit does not come only once to us but continues to form us.
Unpack the First Reading
The readings which is sometimes called the Feast of Weeks or Sabbaths because it occurs seven Sabbaths after the feasts that commemorate the Passover events at the time of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, was to mark the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, as well as to celebrate the full barley harvest in the spring of the year. The giving of the Law, the Ten Commandments, was accompanied by dramatic events—loud trumpets, smoke, and fire on Mount Sinai—that revealed the divine presence and power at work in the formation of the covenant with Israel at the time of Moses.
On this new and first Christian Pentecost, God again demonstrates his presence and power by signs and wonders. And the clearest revelation that we receive from these signs and wonders is that the Church is already “catholic,” which means universal. The first twelve names of nations listed in Acts represent the Greek pattern of the “twelve peoples,” a symbol for all the nations, and then to these is added a thirteenth, Rome, indicating the goal of Luke’s book of Acts: It begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome where Paul and Peter will be martyred in witness to the truth of Christ. Already Luke shows us, according to Joseph Ratzinger, that even before the first step of that journey to Rome is taken, “the one Church, the Church that speaks all tongues—the ecclesia universalis” is already revealed. This new Mount Sinai, this new Pentecost, will form a new Israel of all nations and peoples bound in a catholic unity born of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Unpack the Second Reading
In this reading we see revealed the mystery of the Church as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Recall that Jesus said in John 2:19 “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Then John interjects, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body”
(John 2:21). In St. Paul‘s writings Jesus’ body is the figure of the Church of which we are all members by Baptism. Just as a soul animates the human body, the Holy Spirit animates this Mystical Body of Christ, which is his Church. “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit,” Paul tells us. On this Pentecost we should ask what “benefit” for the Church am I to manifest in the Spirit? Every one of us is by Baptism a custodian of some gift that is meant to benefit the Body of Christ. The Spirit is still falling and still manifesting his gifts, and we ought to long to receive and to exercise them. St. Peter reminds us that we are “chosen and precious,” and he further exhorts us, “Like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).
Unpack the Gospel Reading
In this scene from the Resurrection account of John we have a kind of mini- Pentecost. The dramatic events of Pentecost day that will reveal the Church to the wider world are already being played out in this Resurrection event, which is itself connected in John’s Gospel to the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, when “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30, RSV). His last breath is the sign of the forgive-ness of sins that is now set in motion in the Church on “that first day of the week.”
This text from John 20 is considered to be the clearest sign of the institution of the sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation in the Gospels. What Jesus had promised to Peter in particular and then to the Twelve collectively in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” now finds a precise form in the ministry of mercy. When we think of the gift of the priesthood to the Church, do we first think of the gift of God’s mercy that it brings to us? Often we think of the Pope, bishops, and priests as “authority figures,” as a kind of necessary concession to the needs of ordering a human society on earth. But the mystery of the priesthood is much deeper and richer than mere organizational requirements, as real as they are. In the Church, Peter and the apostles, and their successors, the Pope and bishops, are a gift of his mercy to us.
Reflect & Discuss
Watch the short Opening the Word video on StMichael.FORMED.org.
This week’s presenter, Edward Sri, described three ways the New Testament Pentecost experience parallels the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai on the first Pentecost. What are the parallels?
What is one example given in the video of how the Holy Spirit changes us?
In the video, Edward Sri pointed out that, through the sacrament of Baptism, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and we become radically changed people. We also know from experience that we will fall into sin even after Baptism. In his wisdom, God has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which restores the life of the Holy Spirit within us.
How important a gift is this sacrament to you personally, and how might you thank the Holy Spirit for it?
Reprinted from Opening the Word Leader Guide with permission from Augustine Institute.