Reflection: Pentecost Sunday, Cycle A
Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13; Jn 20:19-23
Acts 1:13-14 gives us the location of the eleven apostles gathered with Mary the Mother of Jesus: the “upper room”; and they were engaged “in prayer.” It is also known as “Cenacle” because the Last Supper -“cena”- was held there. Now that Jesus has already ascended and was no longer with them, they were more fearful than ever and kept doors closed. The Holy Spirit coming as a “driving wind” reminds us of the “ruach Elohim” that swept over the waters in the beginning of creation, making us conscious that on this day the Lord “makes all things new.” Fire had already been seen in Exodus as the burning bush and the pillar of fire and the cloud and fire on top of Mt Sinai, manifesting the majestic presence of God. On this day, this fire is one of gentleness and love and power from on high. The flame is first a light for the mind giving them all the truth about Jesus, reminding them of what he did and taught; second it is the warmth of love for God, and for mankind for whom Jesus shed his blood and to whom they were to be witnesses for Jesus. The presence of the Holy Spirit was first manifested by speaking in tongues. The people that gathered around them were from different regions of the known world where Israel was scattered during the many exiles they suffered in the past. Each one heard and understood in his native tongue the proclamation of the apostles. At Babel, they were scattered because they could not understand one another. At Pentecost all these languages were understood and gathered the many peoples together to hear the mighty works of God. Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth. That is Pentecost. The image of Mary in the midst of the Apostles receiving the flames of fire is the image of the Church being born. Right there Mary is featured as Mother of the Church. Mary was there at the human birth of Jesus, now she is here at the birth of the Church, the Mystical Body of Jesus. In Babel the people were scattered each to his own, at Pentecost the one Spirit gives out different gifts, varied services and functions that keep the Body of Christ one and whole (1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13). Though they are many individuals, races, and tongues with varied gifts and functions, the One Spirit makes all of them build up the One Body of Christ. Let us be discerning to perceive the dividing spirit of satan and the uniting Spirit of God.
The Gospels narrate the life of Jesus up to the ascension. The Pentecost event, therefore, is beyond the Gospel narratives, and we are grateful to St. Luke for writing the Acts of the Apostles where the Pentecost event is narrated early on. The Gospel of St. John alone gives an incident when Jesus transmits the Holy Spirit to the apostles after the resurrection. Jn 17:18 “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” Jn 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Matthew puts into the lips of Jesus about to ascend to heaven the command “Go and make disciples of all nations,” using the language of God to Abraham “Go forth from the land…” John on the other hand uses the language of God to Moses, “Come now, I will send you to Pharaoh…” In all cases the authority comes from God to be sent or to go to fulfill a mission for God. When Jesus sends, it is the Father who sends.
“He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” The concept of wind and breath is made clear as in creation and in Pentecost. Immediately there follows the conferment of the power to forgive sins. From here we see that the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier, making us holy by forgiving our sins. While in Mt 16:19 it was said “Whatever you bind”, “whatever you loosed”, here it is specified “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.” It clearly refers to forgiveness of sins. Jesus came to save us from our sins and so long as there are human beings who sin, there will be need of forgiveness. Therefore, the power to forgive sins must exist and be exercised in the Church founded by Christ. Confession of sin was already prescribed in Leviticus 5:5-6 as we read, “When a man is guilty in any of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed, and he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord for the sin he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” Three elements are clear: confess, bring offering, and the priest. There must be reparation for sin and the intervention of the priest. This intervention of the priest for the act of atonement for sin is mentioned five more times in this chapter: v. 10, 13, 16, 18, and 26. The phrase is almost monotonous, “the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin he has committed… and he shall be forgiven.” Confession of sin to a priest is a most profitable sacrament wherein the sins committed are confessed and forgiven with a penance attached as act of reparation. With the forgiveness of sins, the shalom that Jesus gives is made full and complete, a most fitting gift from the Holy Spirit.