Pentecost 2012 May 27, 2012 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
ACTS OF APOSTLES 2:1-11
Pentecost changes the disciples; it brings to them a sense of power.
Perhaps the most important power came in the Apostles being able to absorb what they had seen and experienced. Even after the resurrection, when Jesus Christ appears to the Apostles, Jesus finds the Apostles remain in their doubting. Matthew reports this: “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw [Jesus], they worshiped, but they doubted” (28:16-17).
Mark reports this: “When [Jesus] had risen early of the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told His companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by [Mary Magdalene], [the apostles] did not believe” (16:9-11).
Jesus rebukes the disciples when they are at table. [Jesus] “appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief, and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised” (Mark 16:14).
Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, the Christian community in Jerusalem is convinced that it has received the Holy Spirit. And these people become conscious that because of receiving the Holy Spirit, they find themselves with new powers, the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise at the moment of His ascension into heaven; “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8). Faith in the risen Jesus is one of those new powers.
To overcome fear and hesitation, the coming of the Holy Spirit freshens sureness in our Lord’s having trampled even death. Remembering the terror of His undergoing the Sanhedrin’s grilling and the crowd’s shouting for Jesus’ death and the ugly agony of His agonizing crucifixion, we need no questioning of the Apostles in their distrust and worry. The Holy Spirit, therefore, excites in these humans a quickening certitude, a bone-firming permanence in their Lord.
Such faith keeps the Apostles together, and in its first act these choose Matthias to fill the position left vacant by the treacherous Judas. The Holy Spirit quickens the faith in the breast of each apostle; they will do and act in the Lord’s way.
The Holy Spirit empowers these Apostles to deal with sinful humans, giving them authority to bring people to God. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive,’ says Jesus, ‘the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (John 20:22-23). A realization of sin can overpower a person; recently a New York man told police that thirty-three years ago he had murdered a little boy. This crime weighed on the man for his adult life, and only by confessing the heinous deed could this man come out from his crime; in confessing he finds absolution. The Holy Spirit bestows authority over sinfulness.
And in another manner, the Holy Spirit empowers the Apostles, for now these fishermen talk in a number of languages. During my brief sojourn in the border town of Strasbourg, France, I recall conversing in a parental home with a six year-old lad. I fumbled along in French, and most politely he offered, “If it would be easier for you,” he said, “we could speak German.” Now by the Spirit, these Galileans, Aramaic speakers, converse in the native language of Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, in the tongue of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, of Rome and of Egypt, of Libya, in the speech of Cretans and of Arabs. “We hear them speaking in our own tongues,” say and marvel these travelers, “[speaking] of the mighty acts of God.” The Holy Spirit instills in these Apostles an exciting reversal of Babel; at the tower raised to prove that humans are greater than God, people lose their common speech, and then a variety of languages so confuse the crowds that they abandon their tower to the skies. Now, however, the Holy Spirit empowers the Apostles to speak in foreign tongues.
The Holy Spirit comes on these Apostles suddenly. On television we hear people in Arkansas narrating that a tornado has come from out the sky with scarcely believable quickness. With such rapidity, the Spirit with a noise like driving wind fills the house. And they see tongues as if aflame rest on the head of each Apostle. And the Holy Spirit fills these people.
We read of prophets being filled with the spirit of prophecy; when Peter speaks to a gathering of Gentiles, “the holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. The circumcised believers…were astounded that the gift of the holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God” (Acts of Apostles 10:44-46).
The Holy Spirit also empowers the Apostles to address large gatherings. Stage-fright falls from these missionaries with the brightness of a light ray. And Peter so impresses a crowd that some three thousand people that day receive baptism (Acts 2:41).
You and I commonly pray that God “by the power and working of the Holy Spirit [will] give life to all things and make them holy” (Eucharistic Prayer III). In our daily living, we are enabled to pray and to do a holy work, for the Spirit of God is with us. Let us rejoice and be glad that we celebrate Pentecost, the visible coming of the Spirit. Amen.