Do Jesus' work of healing, redemption

  • May 14, 2010
Pentecost Sunday (Year C) May 23 (Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23)

“What we have here is a failure to communicate!” This was a famous line from the movie Cool Hand Luke. In fact, people are often separated and alienated by a common language. On the other hand, often those who do not speak a word of each other’s language communicate eloquently through smiles, kindness and generosity, and the medium of music.

Luke’s depiction of the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost was meant to signal the reversal of the confusion and separation resulting from the disaster of the tower of Babel. The new order brought by the Spirit would overcome all separations and barriers in order to bind humanity together under God. The fact that each member of the assembled crowd heard Peter’s proclamation in their own language meant that God’s revelation and salvation was intended for all — no favourites.

That same Spirit is so much in need today. Our technology and education can help us to speak other languages and transcend distances but they cannot teach us to communicate (as anyone who has ever read comments on a webpage knows so well). The language that we speak is still that of fear, aggression, competition, anger and greed. We use our collective languages to divide and separate by highlighting and magnifying real or imagined differences from others and detracting from their worth. This misuse of language underlies the strife and misunderstanding between nations and religions. Unfortunately it is also the language of our cultural, ethical and political debates. There is a superabundance of talk, often shrill and vicious, but little if any communication and understanding. The gift of the Spirit is not intended to put Berlitz out of business but to teach us the unifying language of love, patience and reconciliation. The message of the Spirit is that there is but one Earth, humanity and God — and when we attack others we attack ourselves.  

This point is illustrated in the image of the body that Paul uses to describe the Christian community. Despite outward appearances, all of the members of the community are equally gifted and treasured by God. Whatever gifts individuals appear to have are merely on loan from God and are only given for service and the common good. The one Spirit that flows from God animates and unites them all. This reveals the ridiculousness and futility of competitive and possessive attitudes and behaviour and the need for co-operation and sharing. There is no hierarchy of worth based on race, social class, religion or gender in God’s Kingdom. Until we learn to think and act as a unified body the misery that tears our world apart will continue. It is ironic and tragic that religions, which should be the leaders and exemplars in this interdependent thinking and acting, are often a major source of the problem.

The breath of God — in Genesis this is the “Spirit” that swept across the chaotic deep and created our world. In John’s Gospel Jesus is the bearer and giver of this breath or life force. It is God’s new act of creation and the Gospel even begins with the words “in the beginning” as in Genesis.

Before His arrest Jesus promised His disciples that He would not leave them orphans but would live behind a comforter or advocate to teach and guide them. Now that He has been “lifted up” on the cross and has risen from the dead, Jesus imparts the divine breath to His followers. It will be a source of tremendous spiritual power and strength and will enable them to do things they never would have thought possible.

As we experience the negativity and fear of the world there is always the temptation to ask where God is in all this mess — or how God could possibly allow the various tragedies that unfold daily. But the truth of the matter is that when we rage at God we are really raging at ourselves. God is indeed present, the very breath and life force that pulses through us and through all creation. As He breathed on His disciples, Jesus gave them an awesome mission: “as the Father sent me, so I send you!” That means we are each expected to do our best to fill Jesus’ sandals. Being a disciple of Jesus is not about “getting saved” but serving and continuing His work of healing and redemption.