Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them alone and that he would send the Spirit. Today we celebrate the feast of this gift of the Risen One.
While John places the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Easter to show that the Spirit is the gift of the Risen One, Luke places it with the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost.
Pentecost is an ancient Jewish holiday, celebrated 50 days after the Feast of the Passover. It was to commemorate the arrival of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, where the tablets of the law were given to them. Luke wants to teach that the Spirit has replaced the old law stone with the new law of love.
Here’s what the law of the Spirit is: it is the new heart; it is God’s life. When it enters into a person, it transforms them and from a bramble to a fruitful tree, able to spontaneously produce the works of God.
When a person is filled with the Spirit, something unheard of happens in them. They love with the love of God himself. From that moment “he does not need someone to teach him” (1 John 2:27); he won’t require another law.
And the thunder, the wind, the fire? In the book of Exodus these phenomena accompanied the gift of the old law. “All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning and heard the blast of the trumpet and saw the mountain smoking” (Exodus 20:18).
The rabbis said that on the day of Pentecost at Sinai, when God gave the Law, his words took the form of 70 tongues of fire, indicating that the Torah was destined for all peoples (thought to be exactly 70 at that time).
Luke uses the same imagery during the gift of the Spirit—the new law. If he wanted to be understood he had to use the same images.
And the many languages spoken by the apostles? Probably Luke refers to a common phenomenon in the early Church. After receiving the Spirit, the believers began to praise God in a state of exaltation. As if in ecstasy, they uttered strange words in other languages.
Luke has used this phenomenon in a symbolic sense to teach about the universality of the Church. The Spirit is a gift meant for every person and every people.
Faced with this gift of God, all barriers of language, race and tribe collapse. On the day of Pentecost, the opposite of what happened at Babel occurred (Genesis 11:1-9).
Whoever lets themselves be guided by the Gospel and by the Spirit speaks a language that everyone understands and everyone joins in: the language of love.
It is the Spirit who transforms humankind into one family where all understand and love each other.
Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Translated by Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF