The National Catholic Review
Pentecost (B), May 31, 2009
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4)

Like a faceted gem whose brilliance takes different contours when examined from distinct angles, today's readings open up multiple dimensions of meaning for the feast of Pentecost. The gift of the Spirit to the disciples is one more facet of the ineffable mystery that encompasses Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, ascension and glorification. For the Fourth Evangelist these all occur in one instant. Luke, in contrast, narrates each of these as a separate event, with precise time markers. He tells of resurrection appearances that took place over 40 days before the ascension (Acts 1:3). Now on Pentecost, literally the 50th day after Passover, the gift of the Spirit comes with audible and visible signs.

In Luke's infancy narrative, all the characters are filled with the Spirit: John the Baptist (1:15, 17), Mary (1:35), Elizabeth (1:41), Zechariah (1:67) and Simeon (2:25-27). But once Jesus begins his ministry, only he is said to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Now, on Pentecost, his followers receive this gift. Its first manifestation is facile communication across boundaries of difference. In Jerusalem there are Jewish residents (katoikountes means residents, not visitors for the feast) from every nation, and each understands in his or her native language. Luke gives us a powerful image of unity created when preachers, teachers and catechists, gifted by the Spirit, adopt the culture and language of those with whom they share the good news.

In the Gospel of John, the Spirit is handed over at the moment of Jesus’ death: Jesus declares, "It is finished,” and simultaneously he "handed over the Spirit” (19:30). This expression is not a euphemism for death it is nowhere used that way in Scripture or in secular Greek literature. Again at 20:22 Jesus breathes on the disciples on Easter evening, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” He revivifies them in a way that recalls the Creator bringing to life the first human being by blowing into the nostrils the breath of life (Gn 2:7).

The risen Christ passes through locked doors and empowers the disciples with the Spirit to continue his mission of unlocking with the gift of forgiveness any hearts bound in fear. The offer of forgiveness does not erase or make light of the wounds that have been inflicted, but it surrounds the woundedness with a power that moves toward healing and peace. The Spirit also enables the community of believers to hold on to each member and not lose anyone. In the second half of v. 23 there is no word "sins” in the Greek text. It does not speak of retaining "sins” of others, but of a Spirit-enabled power to retain every beloved one, just as Jesus did not let a single one be lost.


Barbara E. Reid, O.P., is a professor of New Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Ill.

Readings: Acts 2:1-11 Ps 104:1, 24, 29-34 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13 Jn 20:19-23

• What gifts has the Spirit given you for welcoming the stranger by learning their ways of hearing the Gospel?

• Ask the Spirit to help you claim the gift of forgiveness and the power not to let go any of God's beloved.

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