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PENTECOST SUNDAY – Year ABC – Easter
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23.
1/ Reading I: RSV Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
2/ Reading II: RSV 1 Corinthians 12:3 No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
3/ Gospel: RSV John 20:19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
I. THEME: The Holy Spirit’s activities in our life
The Holy Spirit is called “the forgotten God.” We are living in the Holy Spirit’s era, began with Jesus’ ascension and shall be ended with the Last Day; but many of us know little about him. Fortunate for us, the Church uses today, the Pentecost, to help us learn about the Holy Spirit’s activities in our life.
Today readings reveal for us the Holy Spirit’s different aspects in the Church’s life. In the first reading, the author of the Acts reported the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles through three images: the powerful wind, the tongues of fire and the speaking of tongues. We shall learn about the meanings of these three images. In the second reading, St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that the Holy Spirit is the principle of the unity in the Church because we are all different members of the one body with Christ as the head. Moreover, though each member has different gifts but were given by the same Holy Spirit for upbuilding Christ’s body. In the Gospel, St. John reported Jesus’ appearance to his apostles. Christ gives them the true peace, sends them out to preach the gospels and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them to forgive or to retain people’s sins.
1/ Reading I: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
1.1/ The Pentecost is also called “the Weeks;” celebrated by the Israelites fifty days after the Passover. The Weeks is one of the three Jewish solemn feasts which requires all the mature males who lives within 20 miles of Jerusalem, must come to Jerusalem to celebrate. The other two feasts are the Passover and the Tabernacle. The Passover used to happen in the middle of Nissan (April); therefore, the Weeks shall happen at the beginning of June. This month is apt for pilgrimages because the weather is warmer and convenient for travelling. This is the reason why today passage reported that there were many Jews from all over the world came to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. The Weeks celebrates two important events:
(1) History: It is celebrated to memorize the day which God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
(2) Agriculture: Two loaves of wheat bread are offered to God to thank Him for a good harvest of wheat. In all three solemn feasts, all Jews must observe the Sabbath laws.
1.2/ What happened on the Pentecost:
(1) The strong wind: “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.” In Hebrew and Greek, there is only one word which is used for both spirit and wind: ruah in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is identified with wind.
+ The Holy Spirit is the wind because he gives men breath and life: In Genesis, when the world was still unsettled, the Spirit of God, “a mighty wind swept over the waters” (Gen 1:2). When God created a man, He breathed in the man’s nostril and made him a living being (Gen 2:7). When God withdraws the breath, he comes back to dust (Psa. 104:29). In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus compared the Holy Spirit’s work as the wind, “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8).
+ The effects of wind: It can wipe away all trashes and makes that place clean; we saw its effect after hurricanes and twisters. Similarly with the Holy Spirit’s work in human beings; he can wipe out all bad habits in us if we let him work. A wind can make us to feel refresh and comfortable as in the spring or the summer; the Holy Spirit can renew and refresh our souls.
(2) The tongues of fire: “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” The Book of Revelation identified the Holy Spirit with fire (Rev 4:5). The evangelist Matthews mentioned the baptism in Holy Spirit and fire (Mt 3:11, Lk 3:16). There are many benefits of fire:
+ As fire used to purify and to test the real gold (1 Pet 1:7), the Holy Spirit also purifies all weaknesses in human beings and sanctifies them to be perfect beings (1 Cor 3:12-15).
+ As fire used to cook food, to warm or to stimulate human mind and heart (Lk 12:49); the sequence of the Pentecost said that the Holy Spirit can “soften the hard heart, cherish and warm the ice-cold heart, and give direction to the wayward.” He can help the faithful to have the eagerness to preach the Good News and to be Christ’s witnesses.
+ As the column of fire lighted up the Israelites’ way (Exo 13:21); the Holy Spirit enlightens people to recognize the truth and the way, to expel all darkness of sins.
+ The fire is also used to burn and to destroy (Gen 19:24, Rev 8:7). Moses’ vision of the burning bush without consuming (Exo 3:2) is the image of the Holy Spirit’s and the Blessed Mary’s Immaculate Conception (Lk 1:35).
(3) Speaking in different languages: The Acts reported: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language?”
+ In Greek, the noun for the tongue (gnossa) is also used for different languages, but only in plural (gnôssai). When the noun is used in plural, it means “to speak in tongues.”
+ St. Paul used a whole chapter, chapter 14 in the First Letter to the Corinthians, to talk about the speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is the language people talk to God when they are in trance. In order for others to understand, there must be an interpreter; for example, to understand a foreigner, we need an interpreter. If there isn’t an interpreter, speaking in tongues is useless. St. Paul esteemed the gift of prophecy more than speaking in tongues because the former builds up the Church while the latter builds up only for himself.
+ The Babel’s event: is the background of today event. In the building of Babel’s tower, God dispersed people to all places by making them not to understand their languages. In today event, the Holy Spirit united all people by making them to understand the apostles’ language.
+ Speaking in different languages or the language of heart? Some said that the apostles didn’t speaking in tongues but only spoke the language of heart. Of course, the language of heart is important to converse people; but in today passage, it is no doubt that the apostles spoke in tongues because the Holy Spirit wanted to demonstrate his power. If God dispersed people by confusing their language, He can also unite by let them use the same language. The Holy Spirit can help people to understand the apostles by interpreting what they said in the audience’s own languages.
2/ Reading II: St. Paul’s theology of the body
2.1/ “All the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ”: St. Paul used the image of a human body with different parts to apply for Christ’s body with different members which are the faithful. He said, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” In a human body, no part is so unimportant to the point that the body doesn’t need it; sometimes the parts which seem small and weak are more necessary. Therefore, “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” In Christ, no one is so unimportant to the point that he is expelled out. All the fences that separate people in a society such as: language, class, talent, etc., must be discarded so that all can become brothers and sisters.
We will see that St. Paul applied his theology of the Body in many areas. For example, the question of eating meat which was sacrificed to idols. St. Paul answered that one should eat without any question; but if the eating might cause a brother to lose his faith, he shall not eat it because this brother has been redeemed by Christ’s blood. Or yesterday, when talking about the “agape” banquet, he said: all those who eat bread and drink wine – eat Christ’s body and drink his blood – became one body and participate in Christ’s divine life, because of his blood. Therefore, all must eat and drink in a way that they shouldn’t eat their punishment by the separation between the rich and the poor.
2.2/ “There are many different gifts but are given by the same Holy Spirit”: Another of his application is in today passage. According to him, each faithful is given a different mission: “Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues.” All different missions aim at one purpose, that is, to build up Christ’s mystical body.
People have tendency to have a high regard for their mission and to denigrate others’ mission. They think that only their mission is important and necessary, and others’ mission is less important or not necessary. St. Paul used the image of the body to discard this bad habit. He said that all members of a body are important in keeping a body healthy. The eyes can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” Moreover, all the missions are given by the same Holy Spirit who not only knows each one’s ability but also the need of Christ’s Mystical Body, so that he arranges different missions and gives necessary grace to each so he can fulfill his duty.
Another tendency is wishing to do what is considered as important according to worldly standards; for example, the tendency to speaking in tongues in Corinth’s community. In the Gospel, there was no lacking of people who had this tendency; for example, the mother of James and John asked Jesus to let her two sons to seat one in the right and one in the left in his kingdom. Jesus corrected them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant” (Mk 10:42-43).
3/ Gospel: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
3.1/ The relationship between “giving of peace” and “sending out”:
(1) Jesus’ peace: Fear and worry cause people to have no peace, as the Fourth Gospel described the apostles’ behavior in the day after Jesus’ death, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews.” While they are in such fear, Jesus knew what they need the most, so he appears and stands among them and said, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
The apostles have peace because they saw the resurrected Christ. They thought they shall never see him again and were confounding by the events which had just happened; but now they are happy because they saw him in flesh and bones. Moreover, Christ has demonstrated to them that all what he spoke to them are true; all what he foretold about his Passion and Death were happened. Christ’s presence brought them the true peace because he guarantees them about God’s love and power which are expressed in him.
(2) The “send out” command: When Christ chose the apostles; he wants them to continue his mission; so now he repeats again: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”
Peace which the apostles have is not only because Christ’s presence but also the Holy Spirit’s presence and power when Christ breathes him into them. With the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, Christ sends them out to preach the Good News. Before this moment, fear and worry prevent them to live and to witness for Christ; but now, after are confirmed by Christ’s resurrection and the Holy Spirit’s power, the apostles open wide the door, enter into the world and are ready to witness for Christ. They strongly believe that if Christ conquered the most feared enemy which is the death, they have nothing to fear of.
3.2/ The Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins: When Jesus had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
– Comparing this verse with Jesus’ saying in Matthews 18:18, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In Matthews, it is the power to bind and to loose. In John, it is the power to directly forgive and to retain sins.
– The role of the Holy Spirit in the forgiveness of sins: Some biblical scholars raise the question, “What person of the Trinity has the power to forgive sins and how?” There are at least two different opinions:
(1) Christ’s death is regarded as the expiation for people’s sins (Jn 1:29, 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). The water of Baptism takes away people’s sins.
(2) According to the prophetic (Jer 31:31-34; Eze 36:25-28) and Qumran (1QS 4:18-23; 1QH 8:19-20) tradition, they attribute this power to the Holy Spirit.
Actually, all three persons of the Trinity can forgive sins because they are God. Moreover, both the Son and the Holy Spirit are called the Paracletos, so they can function like each other. Christ’s death takes away people’s sins; but in order for people to stay away from sins, they need to know and to act according to the truth. So, they need the Holy Spirit to help them to know the truth and to empower them to live according to the truth. Since the Holy Spirit era is already begun, we need him to help us to stay away from sins and to have courage to make a confession when we committed sins.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– We should always be aware the Holy Spirit’s presence in our soul, as St. Paul said to us, “Our body is the Holy Spirit’s temple.” We should pray often to him, especially in times of doubt and hesitation.
– We can’t understand and recognize Christ’s truths without the Holy Spirit’s guidance; therefore, we must always pray to the Holy Spirit when we are about to learn the truth.
– The Holy Spirit sanctifies us by wiping away lies and sins, and filling our mind with truths and graces. He also empowers us with courage and strength to witness for Christ.