The Spirit binds people to the Lord and to each other

  • May 22, 2007
Pentecost Sunday (Year C) May 27 (Acts 2:1-11/1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13/Jn 20:19-23 or Jn 14:15-16, 23b-26)

Pentecost was not only the birth of the church, but the rebirth of humanity.
The gift of God’s Spirit is what distinguishes the Christian community from organizations of a more secular nature. We invoke the Spirit often and use the word in a variety of circumstances, but often it is only to give some seal of authenticity to something we say or believe.

But in the New Testament period, the Spirit was a palpable, dynamic reality. It was something people experienced, rather than an object of belief or a doctrine. God was sharing Godself with humanity, empowering those willing to receive the gift with the means to rise above the limitations of humanity towards the divine.

But it is also something that makes some people nervous, especially those for whom order and control are supreme virtues. “Renewing the face of the earth” does not mean restoring things the way they were. The descent of the Spirit at Pentecost was portrayed by Luke as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy in which God promised to pour out the divine spirit on all flesh — slaves and women included — to signify a new stage in human development. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Spirit swept aside the barriers that separated Jew from gentile, slave from free, male from female. God was forming a new humanity free of the kinds of divisions and separations that people love to construct.

Later on, Peter will be shocked by the Spirit into the realization that he cannot call any of creation unclean. Even more unsettling, he is forbidden to consider any class of people — even gentiles and Romans — impure or unclean. We must be aware, however, that the work of the Spirit is not finished. Not only are there still many barriers and divisions to overcome, but we have also to rebuild those the Spirit laboured so long to eliminate. The Spirit will have nothing to do with the status quo or conservatism.

Human beings form organizations and social groupings of many types, but one formed by the Spirit is considered to be part of the body of Christ. The Spirit binds people not only to the Lord but to one another, thereby ruling out (in theory) competition, power plays, domination or inequality.

It is easy to tell if the Spirit is really active within a community. The presence of factionalism, backbiting, competition and selfishness is a good indication that the Spirit is only the recipient of lip service. A place where there is patience, forgiveness, compassion, sharing and hope, among other things, is definitely the abode of the Spirit.

The Spirit is very democratic; it is given to all and is not the property or plaything of anyone, nor is it to be used as a weapon against others. Paul makes it very clear that there is one God, one Spirit and one Body. Any gift, talent or charism is given in loan and only for the good of the entire community. It is not to be hoarded, and most of all, it is not to be used for self-aggrandizement.

The breath or spirit that Jesus breathes into His followers is the same divine breath that moved across the face of the waters in Genesis. It creates, it harmonizes, it orders and it is dynamic. This transformative power continues in the human heart, mind and soul. It is so strange that people tend to think of themselves as helpless in the face of the life’s difficulties.

There are many who claim that humans are completely programmed, even for such things as altruism or love. They also claim that we really do not have much, if any, of what we call free will: it is all biology, genetics and the influence of society. All of these things are part of the equation, of course, but God has also given us the power to create and to mold our world and our future. We are not prisoners of anything, except perhaps of our own fear and ignorance.

There are various theologies that define humanity in negative terms: sinner, depraved, fallen. God has other ideas. God has imparted divinity to us, but unfortunately most people remain ignorant of it. Our lives can change dramatically when we not only believe but become aware of the breath of God within us.