In a world that is becoming more and more fragmented, the feast of Pentecost, with its stress on Unity, comes as a breath of fresh air. Pentecost is traditionally known as the Birthday of the Church and concludes the Easter season. It is celebrated just before the Church returns to Ordinary time. Pentecost, meaning "fifty days" after the Passover -- was originally the feast day on which the Jews celebrated the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. On this mountain, the different tribes of Israel entered into a covenant with God and with one another and thus, became the people of God and accepted God as their only God. God gave them the Ten Commandments as a guide to show them how to be a people. Being people of God meant relating to God, and to one another, in a way that God Himself mapped out for them, not in a way that each one would decide individually. This was because they were meant to be one people, united to each other and to God.
The first reading of today, from the Acts of the Apostles, is one in which the disciples, speaking their own language, are understood by people representing the geographical boundaries of the known world. This reading presents the starting point of the Unity which Pentecost symbolizes. It also presents a reversal of the confusion of tongues at the tower of Babel. That confusion was caused when humans tried to make a name for themselves, and be independent, forgetting in that process that, in front of God, they were totally dependent. However, the Spirit of God poured out on the Apostles reverses this confusion and transforms it into clarity and understanding. The Spirit of God transforms division into unity, fragmentation into wholeness, and disarray into order.
This Spirit that Jesus breathed on the disciples, as narrated by the Gospel text of today, results in their transformation. The act of breathing indicates that the disciples have now become a new creation and reminds us of the breath of God on Adam and the first creation. The fear that had taken hold of the disciples is transformed into fearlessness, the doubt that plagued their hearts and minds is transformed into certainty and their cowardice, which made them lock the doors even of their hearts, is transformed into courage and daring. They became a new creation filled with a new vision and a new hope. They who were previously terrified and scared stiff were now willing to go to the ends of the earth, thereby breaking geographical and ethnic boundaries, in order to fulfill the commission of Jesus to forgive and retain sin which meant to draw people to him by their preaching and action. This mission does not refer to the Sacrament of reconciliation but to the broader idea of making God known in Jesus. The mission of the disciples is to reveal Jesus in all that they say and do. They are not called to be arbiters of right and wrong, but to always do right and, in so doing, bring people to judgment. People must look at the actions of the disciples and realize, through them, how far they are from the kingdom made visible in Jesus.
This is done primarily by showing the unity that exists among the disciples. This unity is, according to Paul, despite the fact that there a variety of gifts, services, and activities. All are from one Spirit and offered to one Lord. Just as one body has members, and yet is a single body, so the disciples of Jesus who, though different from each other, are one since they keep receiving the same Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus.
This same Spirit was given to us when we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus and confirmed in the power of the Spirit. It is the same Spirit that continues to be given to us, even today. If we received and keep receiving the same Spirit as the disciples did on that first Pentecost, why can’t we do the same marvelous deeds? We can. We are assured by Paul that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” When we respond to hate and violence with kindness and gentleness, we are doing the same marvelous deeds that the first disciples did. When we respond to greed and selfishness with moderation and selflessness, we are manifesting the working of the Spirit in our lives. When we respond to attempts to divide and segregate with efforts toward unity and integration, we reveal that we are graced by the same Spirit. When we thwart attempts at isolation because of caste, creed, and culture, and work for unity even in diversity, then we show that we, though different, are members of one body.
The Spirit that Jesus sent us from his Father is a Spirit of reconciliation, a Spirit that prevents us from holding grudges or nurturing vengeance. It is a Spirit of truth, a Spirit that directs us into lives of honesty and integrity. The world in which we live is in far greater need of reconciliation and truth than it is in need of the gift of tongues or other miracles and stupendous deeds. The Holy Spirit, the dynamic power of God, is bestowed on us and especially today in all fullness. And with the Spirit come the gifts that can transform the world. The first disciples had their day, and they seized it with a passion and zest that has been remembered down through the centuries. This is our day. We now have a chance to show to the whole world that we are a united, Spirit filled people of God.