Comparing Sunday's first and third readings, we discover that recognizing the gifts the Holy Spirit brings is far more important than knowing when the Spirit first entered the life of the early Christian community.
Luke arranges for the Holy Spirit to arrive on the Jewish feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). John, on the other hand, has Jesus give the Spirit to His disciples on Easter Sunday evening (Jn 20:19-23).
Those who included these two contradictory works in the collection now known as the Christian Scriptures certainly recognized the 50-day disparity. But since these second-century collectors were primarily interested in reflecting on each author's unique Spirit theology, they did nothing to harmonize the two accounts.
Having neither a rigid authority structure, nor a set of normative Christian writings, Jesus' first followers relied on the Spirit's guidance far more than we. As John reminds us, the Spirit guarantees we're carrying on Jesus' ministry exactly as he wishes. "As the Father has sent me," Jesus assures His followers, "so I send you."
We must listen to this assurance in the context of Jesus' Last supper discourse, which precedes it. There, Jesus gives the reason possessing the Spirit is essential for carrying out His ministry. "I have much more to tell you," He says to His disciples, "but you cannot bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth....and will declare to you the things that are coming."
Obviously, the spirit is the element that helps us deal with things the historical Jesus never faced; the Spirit takes us down roads He never traveled.
This seems to be why the biblical description of the spirit's arrival is always couched in violent images, such as wind, fire and noise. Nothing is more disturbing than things we "cannot bear," things totally different from what we've experienced before!
One of Christianity's unique and disturbing assets is that those who imitate Jesus discover the voice of the spirit only when they start becoming one with others. It's no accident that both Luke and John emphasize the spirit's unifying force.
"Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?" Luke's Pentecost crowd asks. "Then how does each of us hear them in his native languages?"
"Receive the Holy spirit," John's Jesus proclaims. "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
Each image -- oneness of language and forgiveness of others -- conveys the unifying element of the risen Jesus' ministry. Each makes us realize that only by forming community can we carry on Jesus' work.
But Paul reminds us (I Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13) of the difficulties which accompany our attempts at being one with others. Only when we overcome our pride and start appreciating the diversity of gifts in the community will we start appreciating the spirit working in the community. After all, "to each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit."
Dava Sobel's recent best-seller, "Galileo's Daughter," demonstrates what happens when Jesus' followers solely rely on Scripture or authority structures for guidance and ignore the Holy Spirit. In this embarrassing scientific situation, it caused the Church's leaders to remain mired in the past, stopping them from exploring the future. They used both Scripture and authority to preserve the status quo.
In 1992, Pope John Paul II tried to correct such "Spirit-less errors." Reflecting on the Galileo debacle, he stated, "The marvelous discoveries of science and technology lead us...to that transcendent and primordial thought imprinted on all things."
No doubt, if the Apostle Paul were giving his list of the Spirit's gifts today, astronomy would make the top ten.