In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
LET US PRAY
Almighty God, we open our hearts to you in this reflection praying that your Holy Spirit may inspire us by his wisdom, and strengthen us by his mighty power so that we may serve you in love and remain faithful to the end. We ask this through Christ our risen Lord, amen.
My dear friends in Christ, one of the greatest miseries we can face in life is not having somebody to assist us in the challenges we face. Every human being needs support in the difficult journey of life. From the moment we are born until the day we die, we stand in need of help to enable us pull through successfully. Join me as we reflect on God’s precious giftin the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The scripture text for our reflection is from Acts of the Apostles chapter 2 verse 1 to verse 11. Again, Acts 2:1-11. Kindly listen with me as I read.
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
As I was going through this bible passage, my mind went straight to the apostles and their ministry in the early Church. I asked myself the question: In this life, what is better than knowledge or enlightenment or wisdom or whatever name you want to call it? What is there in the world that we can even compare to it?
As I kept thinking about this, I could not find anything that is better or that we can even compare in value to the gift of divine wisdom and spiritual unction. Proverbs 8:11 says that “Wisdom is better than corals, and no choice possession can compare with it.” Proverbs 3:14 says that her profit is better than profit in silver, and her revenue is better than gold. Wisdom 7:8 says, “I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.” And Wisdom 7:9 says, compared to wisdom, all gold is like a little sand, and before her silver is like mud.
At the end of the day, there is nothing in this world, no matter how splendid it may appear to be, that we can compare to divine wisdom or spiritual enlightenment. Even human intelligence supersedes all the wealth in the world because it is by intelligence that we are able to contribute to God’s creative acts, just as by wisdom we are able to manage it. If we lack intelligence, we cannot produce anything; and if we lack wisdom, we cannot manage what we have.
This reminds me of my childhood friend back in primary school.He was a fairly bright boy. Unfortunately his father could not pay for his secondary school education. So he ended his formal education in primary six. One Christmas holiday, when I came back from boarding school, I met him in the village and he asked me about life in secondary school. I told him about the different subjects and the new learning environment. He sighed and said to me, “I wish I was able to have more education.”
In my effort to encourage him so he may not feel too bad, I told him that the trade he was learning was good; he was going to make good money to earn a decent living. When I had finished speaking, he looked at me and said, “My brother, it is not about money or wealth and possessions. I wanted the knowledge. . .. just the knowledge.” I tell you sincerely, that was the moment I started to appreciate my educational opportunities.
Now, if human knowledge is so important that my friend felt so bad because he did not have the opportunity to acquire it, how valuable is spiritual knowledge and divine wisdom by which we attain a happy and fulfilled life? There are many people who are blessed with human intelligence, and with skills and talents but who live meaningless lives.With all they have and all they have achieved, they live in pains because they lack spiritual enlightenment.
Let us think of people like St Paul and St Augustine of Hippo. Paul was an intelligent person. But then, his intelligence was leading him down the wrong path. Instead of using his knowledge profitably, Paul pursued and persecuted the early Christians in his spiritual ignorance. When eventually he encountered Jesus on his way to Damascus in Acts chapter 9, the scale of worldly knowledge fell from his eyes and he embraced the eternal wisdom that Christ offered him. With his new-found spiritual knowledge, he was able to understand and live a better lifeto the glory of God.
St Augustine too was a misguided young man who was very intelligent and well rooted in philosophical knowledge. He used to make mockery of God and religion like some unbelievers like to do until God led him into the Cathedral of Milan where he listened to St Ambrose. When he heard true wisdom from the lips of Bishop Ambrose, the scales of false knowledge fell away and he was able to see and accept the truth. He was so delighted about his new life in Christ that in his famous book the Confessions, he regretted his former ways. In Book 10 number 22 he said, “Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new.” He felt really sad that he did not have the spiritual knowledge from the very beginning of his life.
In the bible passage today, we are talking about the spiritual enlightenment and empowerment that the apostles received on the day of Pentecost. It was a transforming experience that was meant to prepare them for the challenging ministry they were going to undertake for Christ. On that day, the apostles caught fire and the flame was so bright and forceful that no one could put it out or hold it back. As we think of these early disciples of the Lord, I would like us to reflect on our own situation as today’s disciples and think of how we can allow the gift of the Holy Spirit which we receive in the sacraments to impact us so that the flame of faith may burn in our hearts and in our actions to the glory of God.
Looking back at the disciples, we see that they all started like us – ignorant, timid, powerless, materialistic, and self-centered. But then, when the Holy Spirit took over, their story took a turn for the better in the service of God. Throughout his time with them, Jesus had been telling them about his paschal mysteries and what that would mean for the salvation of the world but they did not understand. On Easter morning, Peter and John ran to the tomb when Mary Magdalene came calling because Jesus was supposedly removed from where he was laid. When they got to the tomb, it was empty as Mary Magdalene had told them. John 20:8 says John saw and believed. What did he believe? Well,he believed the unfounded report from Mary Magdalene that the Lord’s body has been stolen.John 20:9 says, they did not yet understand the scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead. They were ignorant.
In Matthew 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-19; and Luke 9:37-41 we hear about the man who took his possessed son to the disciples of Jesus for healing but they could not do it. Why? They were powerless. In the Garden of Gethsemane, they abandoned Jesus and fled when he was arrested by the soldiers; and they left him to suffer alone in his passion. Why? Because they were not strong enough to face the bullet; they were timid. In Mark 10:35-37 the two brothers, James and John, came to Jesus and asked him to give them the two most distinguished positions in his kingdom thinking it was an earthly kingdom. Why? Because they were self-centered and materialistic. They wanted the best for themselves.
In all these instances, we see that the disciples were like many of us when they started their journey with Jesus. They did not receive the spiritual unction at the beginning of their faith journey;so they did not understand and could notwitness with authority and diligence. Like the dry bones in the vision of Ezekiel 37:1-14, they were useless until they were spiritually impacted. Despite the many powerful and authoritative teachings they received from the Lord Jesus, they were still as ignorant as babies until the Holy Spirit came and filled their minds with spiritual enlightenment.
In the passion of the Lord, they desired in their hearts to stand by him but they could not get an inch closer because they lacked the strength. It took the Holy Spirit to energize them and make them stand boldly before the earthly powers that tried to stop them from witnessing to Christ. Even when they identified with Jesus who was completely detached from worldly attractions, they were still materially minded. It took God’s Spirit to make them understand and get them back on track.
From all these evidence before us, I see the Pentecost as the day the Holy Spirit came and brought all the efforts of the Lord Jesus to a logical conclusion. He recreated the apostles spiritually, he filled them with strength and wisdom, and gave them a new vigor and a well-defined purpose.
What the Holy Spirit did at the first Pentecost, he continues to do in every age. He renews, strengthens, and empowers the believer to bear witness to Christ in the world. He has not changed and will never change because God does not change. We have to be ready andwell-disposed to receive him into our lives and make the best of the opportunities God has given us to grow in the faith. So, let us pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit of God working among us, and like the early disciples, let us give him the free hand to do what he likes with us to the glory of God.
Acts 2:1 says that on the day of Pentecost, the disciples of the Lord were together in one place. Just before his ascension, the Lord Jesus had ordered them to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes and they obeyed. We do not know what brought them together that day. The Lord had asked them to remain in Jerusalem but he did not tell them to stay together in a particular place; and he did not tell them the day the Holy Spirit was going to come.
What we seein this event is the fact that God was doing his thing his own way. When he wants something to happen, he makes it happen without any hindrance. Very often, he uses what is available to do what is necessary according to his divine purpose. In the outpouring of the Spirit, he used the feast of Pentecost which the people had been celebrating for ages before then. On this special feast day, God brought the disciples together in Jerusalem to continue his divine plans according to his eternal design. Those disciples might have thought they were going for the traditional celebration of Pentecost that day without knowing what God had planned to do in their lives.
A little reminder here. Pentecost comes from the Greek word Pentekonta which means fifty; and Pentecost refers to the“fiftieth day”. Within the religious context of the Jews, it denotes the celebration that was held on the fiftieth day after the feast of Passover. In Hebrew, this feast is called Shavuot or the feast of weeks. It was the second out of the three obligatory feasts that the Jews were supposed to celebrate. The first was Passover, and the third was the feast of Tabernacles.
In Exodus 23:14-17, God gave Moses instructions on how to celebrate these three feasts. In verse 14 he says, “Three times a year you shall celebrate a pilgrim feast to me.” In verse 15 he commanded them to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread or Passover to remind them of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. In verse 16, he commanded them to keep the feast of the grain harvest with the first fruits of the crop that they sow in the field and the feast of in gathering at the end of the year when they gather in their produce from the fields.
In Exodus 34:22 the feast of Pentecost or Shavuot is defined as “the feast of Weeks with the first fruits of the wheat harvest.”Originally, it was an agricultural feast when the people of Israel thanked God for the first fruits of their harvest. In due course (between 300 BC and 300 AD), it was no more seen as an agricultural feast. It became a day they commemorated the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.
Apparently, the disciples were in a public place in Jerusalem for the feast. Very probably they were in the temple area or in some other place which was open to the public; because, as we see in the passage, there were many other Jewish people in attendance who had come from different parts of the world to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. On that special day of divine appointment, God decided to give a new meaning, a higher spiritual meaning to the feast. It became an important moment in God’s plan of salvation. It was no more to be a celebration of first fruits of harvest or the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, but another unique moment of divine empowerment through the permanent presence of the Holy Spirit.
As the world was born through the creative act of the Father, and humanity was redeemed through the paschal mysteries of God’s only begotten Son, the Church was born through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost took on a new name. It was the birthday of the Church when the disciples received the power to minister boldly in the name of Jesus, and it marked the beginning of a new age when every Christian in every age and every region in the world will partake in the mission of Christ by the power of God’s Spirit.
As they gathered, Acts 2:2 says that a noise came from the sky like a strong driving wind and filled the entire house. Verse 3 says that tongues as of fire descended on each of the apostles and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. With the infusion of the Holy Spirit, they were empowered and enlightened;the ligaments of their tongues were loosened; and they began to speak in different languages by the power of Holy Spirit who dwelled in them.
Let us pause for a while and reflect on the mysterious occurrences in this passage. Let us think of the strong driving wind and the flames of fire that Luke mentions in this passage.
The extraordinary way the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles reminds me of the powerful way God manifested himself to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:16-19. As we see in Ezekiel 37:1-14, the wind signifies the breath of life which God gives to every one of his children; and the catechism of the Church says that “fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions.” With this experience, the disciples were purified and fortified for the challenging mission they were going to undertake and the Church was inaugurated to represent Christ in the world as his beloved bride.
Unfortunately, those other people who were with the apostles were not aware of what the Holy Spirit was doing even while they were right there in the same room. This is not surprising because what the spiritual eye sees, the worldly eye does not see.
What happened on the day of Pentecost with these Jewish people and the disciples of Jesus still happens today. We may be in the midst of people who are experiencing God’s blessings while we live in sorrows and pain. Others may be feeling God’s power in their lives while we experience dryness. Consequently, we find ourselves doing exactly what these people did when they saw the disciples in a state of spiritual ecstasy and divine manifestations.
Listen brothers and sisters. When we do not put ourselves in a position to be part of God’s blessings, we find ourselves stepping back in surprise and wondering what is going on. I tell you,God does not want us to be outside his mercy and blessings; he wants us to be a part of it. We are not to be on the side of those who stand back in surprise at God’s faithfulness in the lives of others; we have to be a part of the testimony. Therefore, let us walk with the Lord, so that wherever good things happen we may join in the joy of God’s blessings.
Acts 2:5 says there were devout Jews who had come in from every nation under heaven. In other words, serious and committed Jews in diaspora were back home in Jerusalem for the festivities of Pentecost. Verse 6 says they were taken aback when they heard each of the disciples speaking in the language of the different places they came from.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, they opened their mouths and spoke, and everybody from different parts of the world who was in that room was able to hear and understand what they were saying. So, what were they saying?Acts 2:11 says, they were proclaiming the mighty works of God.
Listen friends. These disciples were all Galileans, uneducated, and never traveled out of their homeland. Yet, they were speaking various foreign languages.This could not be possible except by the mighty power of God.
It was a glorious moment of divine intervention when the confusion of Babel was reversed. In Genesis 11:1-9, the bible says that the whole world spoke the same language at the beginning; but the pride of humanity in the pursuit of their own will brought about division and multiplicity of languages. At the Pentecost, there were people from different linguistic backgrounds but the humility of Jesus in his obedience to God’s will brought about unity and understanding. This shows that we attain greater purposes when we surrender to God’s will, and we bring ourselves to perdition when we pursue our own will.
What we ought to learn from this passage is the same lesson God continues to teach us every day in the scriptures. He is a faithful God who does not eat his words. Numbers 23:19 says that he does not lie because he is not like us human beings. Over the years God has kept his promises and he did it again in the gift of the Holy Spirit to his Church.
Back in John 14:18, Jesus had promised that he will not leave his disciples as orphans. In John chapter 15 and 16, he promised to send them the Holy Spirit whom he also introduced as Advocate, Helper, and Comforter.At the moment of his ascension in Acts 1:8 he renewed that promise.On the day of Pentecost he fulfilled that promise when the Holy Spirit came mightily upon the disciples. So, we must always trust God no matter the situation.
Looking back into the Old Testament, we see that when God promised to give Abraham a son, it took 25 years for that promise to be fulfilled. That was a pretty long time but God did not fail in his words; he kept the promise. All we need to do is to hold tightly to God’s life-giving words and live obediently as his sons and daughters until his promises are fulfilled in our lives.
Something else we have to learn from this holy event is that our Christian faith is a call to share in the ministry of Christ. In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus compares us to salt and light. Like salt we have to give taste to our tasteless world; and like light, we are to shine brightly for all to see. Jesus clearly says in Matthew 5:15 that no one lights a lamp and put it under a bushel basket. When a light is lit, it is set on a lamp stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, the gift of the Spirit that was given to the apostles on Pentecost was never to be left dormant. It was supposed to be used in building the kingdom of God on earth.The early disciples did it collectively and individually to the last drop of their blood.
As Christians who have been baptized and confirmed, we can ask ourselves the question: In what ways have we used the gift of the Spirit we received? What have we done in our day to build up the kingdom of God? How have we distinguished ourselves as disciples of Jesus in our time? These are serious issues to think about if we want to identify with Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:3 St Paul says that no one can proclaim Jesus as Lord except by the Holy Spirit. If we do not have the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we cannot witness to Christ.
Looking at the way things are going in our world today, my greatest fear is that if we do not surrender to the Holy Spirit and guide him to use us, the treasures of faith we received from our parents and grandparents will perish in our hands, and posterity will be sterile because we are not doing what our ancestors did in their time. When I read the bible and the history of the Church, tears fill my eyes because the whole of the Middle East and North Africa were once the home of Christian saints. Now they have become barren lands. The same thing has started happening in Europe. Each time I visit that continent, I smell the spiritual decay. If we do not wake up and take charge in the spirit of true stewardship, we will lose what we have today;and in the future, our territories will become a graveyard where the devil will sing unholy songs. May the Holy Spirit empower us, and may God’s grace guide our hearts to fulfill his purpose on earth.
Oh that today you listen to his voice, harden not your hearts
LET US PRAY
Heavenly Father, renew the gift of your Holy Spirit in our hearts. Help us to rise from our spiritual slumber and proclaim the good news with courage that through us the world may find salvation. And bless the one who has made this message possible. We ask you this through Christ our Lord, Amen.