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Invested with Power From on High

{ Tags: , \ Jun3 }

Pentecost is a Jewish feast that recalls the giving of the gift of the Law. It is believed that fifty-days after the coming out of Egypt the Law was given to Israel through the agency of angels. It was Moses, representing Israel, who had to go up Mt. Sinai so that the Gift could come down.

For the Israelites and their descendants, the Law was God’s gift. It was, after all, the revelation of His thoughts and desires for His people. God is like the father who imparts to His children His “inner life,” His “Word” in the form of “Law.” This is important to note because even today, the Jews believe that the giving of the Law is an act of love; it is not the act of a despot who imposes his authority over slaves, but that of a father who loves his children.

Luke tells us how for the first Christians the feast of Pentecost was transformed into a Christian feast by the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2). Before he ascended, Jesus had told the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the descent of the Power from on high (cf. Lk. 24:49). At first reading, this would seem to be an event that will empower the disciples to carry out their mission to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. At a deeper level, however, the event is transformative; it changed the disciples into a “Body” that extends the presence of Christ in history.

The “gift of tongues” which the disciples received during that first Pentecost, at first glance, enables them to speak in the different languages of men. At a deeper level, however, the gift of tongues is just a sign that the disciples have become the historical means by which God reconciles all men to each other. Remember that the family of Noah were alienated one from the other at the incident of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). There the “confusion” of tongues led to the separation of peoples; the family of Noah became divided. Each was alienated from the other. On Pentecost the group of disciples were transformed into the family that incorporates into itself all of mankind, just as Noah’s had been before Babel. In and through them, what was once alienated will be reconciled and be made to be “at home” with each other. (This is something worth reflecting on: whenever we talk of the unity of mankind, we should think beforehand of the basis of such a unity. The Jewish conviction was that all would be under one ruler, the Davidic king, who will teach them the Law of God from Zion (e.g. Is. 2:1-5). The Christian conviction is unity under the Fatherhood of God in Christ as made possible in the outpouring of the Spirit. In other words, unity in the Trinity. But this would be a topic for the feast of the Holy Trinity.)

In Gal. 5, Paul writes to the Church in Galatia and tells them to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit. If you would notice, the “fruits of the Spirit” are attitudes arising from the “at homeness” of Christians with each other. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, self-control…” (Gal. 5:22-23) are what Filipinos would normally regard as the characteristics of “mabuting pakikisama” (roughly, “fellowship”). On the other hand, the opposite of these — the “fruits of the flesh” — are characteristic attitudes of those who remain in alienation.

Immorality, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of anger, acts of selfishness, dissension, faction, occassions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies… (Gal. 5:19-21)

Notice that these are objectionable too for non-Christians. Paul in fact is aware that the “fruits of the flesh” are also those which society in general would not approve in their members. Paul tells the Galatians to “live in the Spirit” because it is that which transforms them into the family of God. The Spirit has been poured into the Christian, enabling him/her to call God “Abba” (Rom. 8:15) .Ultimately, this is the basis of the unity of mankind that all men would like to be realized.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples that the Holy Spirit will come after He has gone up to the Father. This dynamic — the going up (of Jesus) and the coming down (of the Gift, that is the Holy Spirit) is the very same dynamic that animated the Jewish Pentecost (see note below). Now however, the characters have been changed. Instead of the Law coming down, it is the Spirit, the Advocate that descends. By saying that the Spirit will be the “second Advocate”, Jesus is also saying that He is the first, and that the Spirit will be extending His presence in the midst of the disciples. This means that the disciples will be in the world just as Jesus was: filled with the Spirit from on high. And because of this, they will be able to bring to the world that Jesus Himself brought to the world: life, love and truth.

Paul writing in a different context also captures this dynamic in Eph. 4

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