Pentecost Sunday - Scripture Soundings
First Reading: Acts 2:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
Gospel: John 20:19-23
We commonly equate living with breathing. We understand it instantly when Jesus breathes the life of the Holy Spirit into the dispirited apostles on Easter evening. We recall in Genesis 2:7 that God breathed life into the first human being. We all can fathom in our bones that a creature of the earth came to life with the very breath of God. We all have a visceral understanding of breathing in and out--of being alive.
Of all the gifts of the Spirit that could be given on that Easter evening, peace and forgiveness are the ones Jesus gives. He sends the apostles out to take on the difficult, necessary work of forgiveness. If they want to know the role and mission of forgiveness and unity, they need only consult his life and words. Just as he was sent by the Father, they are sent to the ends of the earth.
The first reading reports the amazing rush of the Holy Spirit descending with the noisy might of the wind. The quiet dancing of individual flames has its effect. The apostles are courageous and unafraid. They speak in their native tongue, but are understood by all. The naming of the peoples of the nations gathered in Jerusalem signifies the population reaching to the very ends of the earth. They include us all. Devout people everywhere can understand the Gospel. They have been waiting for this good news all their lives, though they may not have known it.
On this Pentecost day, we hear these two stories of the Holy Spirit. One is loud and spectacular; the other, quiet and resolute. The second reading comes up from life close to the ground. The fragment we read today is excerpted from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. He addresses the dissension and division that crop up, the very opposite of long-dreamed-of unity and harmony.
Apparently, some of the members of the community are quite taken by the occasional occurrence of the more dazzling gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues. Paul does not disparage these manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but he reminds us that they are gifts and services for the benefit of everyone. In this brief reading, Paul is just getting up a full head of steam. He rolls onward and upward to his masterful hymn of love, which comprises all of chapter 13.
We know it well: "If I speak in human tongues and angelic as well, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1). We know the rest of this chapter, but we would do well to read it once again, just to remind ourselves of the highest, richest, deepest manifestation of the life of the Holy Spirit among us today.
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Updated: May 11, 2008