God's Word on Sunday: We must allow the Spirit to do its work

  • May 16, 2021

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

What would the Spirit find if Pentecost occurred today? It would find a divided and broken world at war with itself.

The fault lines of political, religious and social polarization have fractured humanity itself and even exist within families. This polarization and fragmentation is not something we can readily repair with our own efforts and it is taking its toll on the quality of life in our world.

In the account of Pentecost presented in Acts, the Spirit wasted no time in confronting human fragmentation. As the apostles spoke, the pilgrims present in Jerusalem each heard the proclamation in their native tongue. The story is followed by a quotation from the prophet Joel that portrays this event as a fulfilment of God’s promise to pour out the divine Spirit on all flesh in the last days.

This is a reversal of the tower of Babel incident in Genesis. God scattered the people across the Earth and confused them by making them speak in various tongues. The descent of the Spirit signalled the beginning of a restoration of humanity to its original relationship with God and with one another.

Later on in Acts, the Spirit descended on a Roman centurion and his entire household, bringing them into the family of God. It consistently nudged and prodded the first followers of Jesus to leave their comfort zone and move forward. The Spirit is dynamic and always on the move, acting as a bridge, healer, reconciler and transformer. But the work of the Spirit is just beginning for there is a world to heal.

Nowhere is that need more acute than in the Church, which claims to be animated by the Spirit. If that is the case, why is there such viciousness, division and lack of charity in some quarters?

The Spirit only works when we let it — invoking it in a ritual blessing or tossing the word around in theological conversation is not enough. We have been gifted with a powerful tool — the dynamic presence of God.

When we ask God to pour forth the Spirit and renew the face of the Earth, we must be prepared to allow the Spirit to do its work.

The work of the Spirit was sorely needed in the Corinthian community. Its members had been seized by a competitive spirit and were trying to one-up each other with regard to their spiritual endowments. Paul insisted that the many gifts flowed from the same source — the Spirit of God. The gifts were not personal possessions, but on loan and were to be used only for the common good.

Paul explained that the Spirit was both the animating force of the community and the means by which they were bound to one another and to the Lord. Although there was great diversity in the community, the Spirit unified their minds and hearts.

The handing over of the Spirit was considerably quieter and less dramatic in John’s Gospel. Jesus Himself was present to grant them the gift of the Spirit.

In the long discourse after supper, Jesus had explained the role of the Paraclete, which is the title John gives the Spirit. It would be the ongoing presence of Jesus in the community and would be given to all rather than just a select few. It would continue to teach them and to reveal deeper dimensions of the truth.

There were a few more surprises: The Spirit would prophesy, glorify Jesus and show that the world was wrong about practically everything. Most of all, it would give life and access to God.

The word for “breath” and “spirit” is the same in the languages of both testaments. Jesus breathed the divine spirit into them and sent them into the world to continue the mission the Father had given Him. They did not go alone or without means, for they carried within them the ongoing presence of the Lord.

We might feel overwhelmed when we try to do the Lord’s work or meet the challenges of life. That is not surprising if we rely only on our own efforts and on strictly human means. Becoming aware of the breath of God within us can reawaken the slumbering parts of our mind and soul.

Letting the Spirit be in control rather than merely being a consultant is a fruitful and advantageous way of proceeding.  

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