PENTECOST 2013 – May 19, 2013 – Acts of the Apostles – Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Acts of Apostles 2:1-11
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God…. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended on it in fire…. The whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak, and God would answer him in thunder. (Exodus 19:17-19)
In the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we witness a theophany as did the Israelites with Moses. Like the Israelites at Mount Sinai, the Apostles experience God who comes with the external marks that overwhelm and rivet attention. Divinity fills the house and visibly affects those present. Also like the Israelites, the Apostles are in one place, together, and not individually isolated. Together they see and feel the divine presence.
It occurs of a sudden. True, the apostles were spending their days since the Lord’s ascension in prayer, often in the temple, so religion rules the day, yet now any gradual motion has no place. The ordinary on the instant is changed.
From the sky, coming into the house, a loud noise shatters the quiet, a noise not from a tambourine or drum or harp, but resembling the roaring made by a swift wind, a whirring tornado; and this noise penetrates and fills the entire house. Besides this roaring, the apostles see tongues with flaming images. The Holy Spirit is neither wind nor fire, but the Spirit is compared to the sound wind makes and to the flames that fire produces. The Spirit’s presence is tangible, evident, visibly affecting the Christians around the Apostles.
This coming of the Holy Spirit shows outwardly, as clear as your hand before your eye, for the Spirit came later when Peter and John baptized. In fact, at Samaria Peter and John perform this baptism , and Simon, a magician, sees outward visible signs of the Holy Spirit; this magician is so impressed that he offers to monetarily purchase such a power (Acts 8:17-18). St. Peter tells Simon that such power is not for sale. As at a later baptism, so at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes visibly.
The tongues as of fire rest upon these people, and they talk. The Apostles feel the Spirit impelling them to speak to the Jews here in Jerusalem from various nations, from “every nation under heaven.” These Apostles and the good folk with them sense a zest for speaking about the Lord Jesus. In our United States, we feel a reluctance to mention our religion to strangers. In Jerusalem, however, Jews freely gab about their temple and how they have come from distant parts for the religious feast of Tabernacles.
The Apostles feel the Holy Spirit, and not to a small degree. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Now the urge impels the Apostles, for they “began to speak in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
To this point, we read of the Holy Spirit affecting the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. But the sound of the Spirit’s coming has thundered through Jerusalem. A crowd gathers, as will a crowd at any fire or noise or incident. Crowds have chased ambulances for centuries! The sound of the Holy Spirit’s coming gathers a large crowd.
And then these people hear the Apostles speaking in their various languages. “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear [the Apostles speaking in our] native language?” The people of the crowd are astounded, and their amazement shows, for these diverse people hear the Apostles speaking in more than fourteen vernaculars of the mighty acts of God. The Apostles are talking to people from far away Crete and Rome, to Jewish people and to converts to Judaism and to Muslims and to other Arabs; yet all these folk hear the Apostles—all Galileans—conversing in a language native to these diverse nations.
In a breathtaking reversal from the tower of Babel, when proud humanity was divided by the plurality of languages (Genesis 11:1-9), Pentecost represents the in-breaking of God. The Holy Spirit that united Jesus to the Father, now unites you and me to God.
Broadcasters today like to add a negative voice to their basic message. The same was true at Pentecost. Some nay-sayers, seeing the crowd spiritually aware, say that the Apostles are drunk, intoxicated, on new wine. But Peter grabs attention. No, he says, these people are not drunk.
They are the living fulfillment of God’s promise. The word of God is heard. God’s Spirit is being shared, and God’s communion is being brought among humanity here and now. The poetic voice of the prophet Joel rightly dramatizes this wonderful moment:
Thus says the Lord:
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions;
Even upon the servants and the handmaids,
In those days, I will pour out my spirit. (Joel 3:1-2)
Pentecost remains with you and me; Pentecost makes us aware that we speak to God by the grace of God. We rise to the divine because the Holy Spirit enables us people of flesh and of the world. “Therefore,” writes Saint Paul, “I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God…can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 12:3).
“When we cry ‘Abba, Father,’” writes Paul, “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16). Pentecost was the beginning for those who live today by the spirit. Amen.