Divine light shines within

  • June 1, 2011

Pentecost Sunday (Year A) June 12 (Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23)

What does the Spirit do? The term is tossed around so much in religious circles, usually as a vague appeal to a higher and somewhat ambiguous authority. Over the centuries it has sometimes been misused to justify questionable ideas and practices.

In the New Testament there is a range of images for the work or action of the Spirit. We are all familiar with the image of the Spirit portrayed by Luke in Acts: rather noisy and flashy but very vibrant. It descended on the assembled followers of Jesus on the harvest feast of Pentecost. In the Scriptures the harvest is often used as a metaphor for the final days. It is time to gather in that which belongs to God. For Luke, the Spirit will be the great unifier. Its first function in Acts was to overcome the barrier of language but it does not stop there. All human divisions and separations must give way to the reconciling and transforming power of God’s Spirit. God is One and humanity must be the same.

Throughout Acts the Spirit continues to poke, prod, challenge and outrage the early followers of Jesus into a new spiritual consciousness and understanding of the world. Today the work of the Spirit is needed more than ever for the world is gripped by division, fear, anger and suspicion. But the Spirit cannot just be invoked for narrow ecclesiastical purposes. The Spirit works within and outside the Church to present to God a world unified and animated by love.

Paul’s focus is more on the immediate community. The Spirit not only unifies the community but grants its members with an awareness of their interdependence. It is also the localized presence of God in the community of believers. Paul makes it clear in his writings that we have a choice of either living in the self — the ego — or the Spirit. As the Spirit empowers the community with spiritual gifts, how people react to those gifts reveals which choice they have made. The gifts of the Spirit are not for self-aggrandizement or power games but for the common good. The signs of the Spirit’s presence are unmistakable: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). All claims of inspiration are measured by this standard.

John addresses the Spirit as “Paraclete,” a word with a variety of meanings, such as counsellor, comforter or advocate. One of the roles of the Paraclete is to reveal the reality and nature of God. According to John humans in their natural state are incapable of knowing or understanding God even though they might speak incessantly about Him. It is only the gift of the Spirit that cleanses the doors of perception so that people can truly know and experience God. We may agree or disagree with this view but it was a view shared by both John and Paul and underlies their writings. As Jesus breathes the Spirit on them He charged them with the same mission given to Him by the Father: to do the will of the Father and to reveal the true nature and character of God to the world. We know from John’s Gospel and letters that He defined God as light and love — no darkness, no violence and no hatred. In other words, Jesus revealed God minus the projections of human darkness and fear, and now He wants His followers to do the same.

But those who dwell in the Spirit are able to manifest God in who and what they are — the light of the divinity shines from within. This sort of religious proclamation transcends boundaries and belief systems and does not allow for polemics or bigotry. Again, our world calls for those who allow the Spirit of God to dwell in their hearts and souls rather than those for whom religious faith is an ideology or call to arms.