One of the reasons Luke wrote his Gospel and
the Acts of the Apostles in the mid-80s was to explain how a Jewish reform
movement begun in the early 30s had, within 50 years, developed into a
religion appealing exclusively to non-Jews from all over the known world.
Luke was convinced that the Holy Spirit both
motivated and guided the Christian community during this process. That's
why, before anyone in Acts starts thinking about converting Gentiles, the
Spirit must be embedded in those who will eventually make the decisions that
lead to this essential change in direction.
Differing from John, who in Sunday's Gospel (Jn
20: 19-23), posits the Spirit's arrival on Easter Sunday night, Luke has
the Spirit unexpectedly come down on the disciples on Pentecost. Because
many Christians today know little or nothing about our Jewish roots, we don't
understand why the third evangelist locates this event on this particular
A new people
Pentecost is the annual commemoration of the
Sinai covenant between Yahweh and the ancient Israelites, an event that
formed a band of runaway slaves into the people of Yahweh. With this in
mind, Luke has the Holy Spirit form those gathered in the upper room into
Yahweh's new people.
Anticipating the Church's mission to all
people, the evangelist mentions, "there were devout Jews from every
nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem," all able to hear the
Spirit-filled followers of Jesus speaking in their native languages. Though
these difficult-to-pronounce place names strike terror into the hearts of
lectors, it's important that Luke names the localities that later will be
evangelized in Jesus' name.
Such a distinctive change in direction helps
explain why Luke uses wind, fire and noise to describe the Spirit's
arrival. Each of the three dramatically changes the community's
"status quo." Things and people are never the same afterward.
That's why Paul begins his famous second
reading (I Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13) on the Spirit's gifts by reminding
his community, "To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is
given for some benefit."
Because there's always some who will insist
that such Spirit-instigated changes are from the devil and not from God,
Paul emphasizes the necessity of the Spirit's presence and actions. He
believes one cannot even proclaim, "Jesus is Lord!" unless he or
she gives themselves over to the Spirit.
One in Jesus
No matter how violent and divisive the Spirit
seems, the Spirit has just one purpose: to constantly form us into the body
of Christ, one presence of the risen Jesus in the world.
This is where John's Gospel comes in. We can
forget the contradictions between Luke and John on when the Spirit arrives.
The important dimension of the Spirit's presence for John is that, without
using Paul's terminology, the Spirit also forms us into Christ's body.
The way this is accomplished is by following Jesus' command to forgive.
(Scholars presume He never wanted His followers to withhold forgiveness.)
Jesus reminds His disciples, "As the
Father has sent me, so I sent you." Notice the parallel to Paul's
insight that we're Christ's body. John simply says that it's up to us
to carry on the risen Jesus' ministry, to be "other Christs" to
all around us.
Forgiveness is probably the most essential of
all the Spirit's gifts. It's the only way communities can exist for long
periods of time. And it also mirrors the ministry of forgiveness for which
the historical Jesus was so well known and for which He was put to death.
And, remembering the Pentecost phenomena, it's one of the most disturbing
actions anyone can perform.