PENTECOST SUNDAY, 2019
GOD IS BOTH AUDIBLE AND VISIBLE
Readings: 1st- Acts 2:1-11; 2nd- 1 Cor. 12:3b-7, 12-13; Gospel- Jn. 20:19-23
The events of the theophany (appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai) was captured in the Old Testament, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you” (Ex. 19:9). What happened on Sinai? “On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled.Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire” (Ex. 19:16-18). This records as the Feast of Harvest in the Jewish festival.
The Acts of the Apostles narrates the Pentecost events this way, “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them” (Acts 2:2-3). This is similar to the incident at Mount Sinai. God makes his presence known to the disciples as to the Israelites: strong driving wind,” filled the entire house, “tongues as of fire” came to rest on the disciples of Jesus. The Sinai event is said to be the foreshadowing of the events of Pentecost, a great pilgrimage feast which takes place fifty days after the Passover.
As on Sinai mountain, the Lord roared in forms of thunder and lightning. The presence of the Lord is both visible and audible. The disciples “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 3:4). The Greek word for “tongue” (glossa)refers to both the fiery tongue of fire that rests on the head of the disciples and the various speeches inspired by the Holy Spirit (Tongue of fire). The Spirit leads the disciples to spaek a language understood by all who “gathered from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem” (Acts 2:5).
God always shows himself in both visible and audible forms. About the baptism of Jesus, we read, “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Here, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of the dove ushering in the voice of the Father. At Pentecost, the Spirit descended upon the disciples in the form of tongues as of fire and elicited speeches of unity.Jesus appears in the gospel in his physical presence.
Having been put to death, his disciples are not sure of their future. They’re still in fear. Then Jesus appears. His first gift to them is, “Peace be with you.” With the gift of peace, Jesus sends his disciples out as the Father has sent him. He sends them by the empowerment from the Holy Spirit, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” With the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus commissions his disciples to forgive sins in the world, to reconcile peoples to the Father. He commissions them to preach the gospel of unity. We must recognize the Holy Spirit as the principal agent of mission.
What is the implication of Pentecost for us today? Do we still experience the gift of the Holy Spirit? If families live in so much rancor and division, how does the Holy Spirit manifest? If the world has become so broken, antagonistic and cantankerous, if hatred and violence characterize interhuman relationships, how dare we experience the Holy Spirit?
Paul answers these questions in the second reading. He encounters a broken Corinthian community, a community filled with envy and greed. Paul reminds this community of the diversity of gifts from God and the unity inspired by the Holy Spirit. Put your gifts to positive use and there shall be peace. Our gifts and charisms are important to the Lord. They have been given to us for the purpose of building each other. They are not for selfish competitive reasons. Saint Paul writes, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefits” (1 Cor. 12:7). Everyone of our gift must be for the benefits of others, otherwise such gift is not from God. The disciples used their tongues to bring together all their listeners on Pentecost, so we should bring others close to God by our gifts. Pentecost is the harvest of unity.
Imagine the number of people gathered to listen to the disciples: “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs.” This is like the first inter-religious gathering in the world. They all witness to the presence and works of the Holy Spirit through the disciples, “Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?” God wants us to be united as his children. He intends us to be at peace. He wants us to extend peace to those around us. He invites us to use our gifts to uplift others. He inspires us through the Holy Spirit to become agents of forgiveness and mercy.
Recently, a friend gave me a gift of an African American Bible which I loved. As I use this Bible, I ask myself what makes a particular Bible African, American, Latino, or even Asian. And I’ve been reflecting on how much of a sense of individualism or community we promote even through the Bible- God’s Word. I’m imagining how ethnicity, racism, politics, and religion have been engrained through instruments of worship such as the Bible. Are these tools of worship agents of division rather than unity in today’s world? Think about it. Christ left us one Bible and said to us, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn. 6:63). How many versions do we have today? -American Bible, Asian Bible, Hispanic Bible, African Bible, African American Bible, European Bible, etc. These different versions of the Bible are helpful in motivating people to study Scriptures in their dialect, which is wonderful. The question becomes what motivations we derive from using these Bibles. What do we read? What do we see? And what do we speak when we use any Bible be it White American or Black American? Do we read and speak unity or do we read and promote a sense of division and individualism.
Pentecost reminds us that God is both visible and audible in the community. He is visible through the various gifts that he has given to us. He is visible in each person, in those we meet irrespective of their dialect or color. He is visible in his Church bringing believers together through the sacraments. God is audible too, when we bring our gifts to the service of others. He is audible when we speak peace. He is audible when we bear witness to the faith through loving those who are different from us. He is audible when we forgive those who offend us. God is audible when we show friendship and love. God speaks loudly through us, “all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, in Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12).