“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus proclaims these words from the prophet Isaiah as he opens his public ministry in the Gospel of St. Luke. The proclamation sets out the mission of Jesus that will culminate in his passion, death and resurrection.
The mission of Jesus continues in the life of the church. The same “Spirit of the Lord” which fills Jesus and his ministry is poured out on the apostles and disciples who in turn continue the work of the Lord. The outpouring of the Spirit is celebrated this Sunday in the Solemnity of Pentecost. The readings for the liturgy (Mass during the day) recall this gift.
The passage from the Gospel of John, the fourth Gospel, recalls one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances to the disciples. It is the evening of the “first day of the week” following Jesus’ passion and death. The disciples are gathered behind locked doors for they were afraid. The locked doors do not prevent Jesus from entry and he appears before them.
His twice-repeated greeting of “peace” dispels the fear and fills the disciples with joy. Jesus then commissions his followers to continue the mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The mission will be empowered by the Holy Spirit for Jesus “breathes” on them and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
The mission of Jesus was one of reconciliation and forgiveness. These are manifestations of God’s love and mercy. Humanity, once broken by sin, is now healed through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. The mission of mercy continues now in the life of the church.
The first reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles and recalls the day of Pentecost (50 days after Easter). The Old Testament feast, celebrated in the faith life of Israel, recalled the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Because this day was an important feast day in Judaism, there were “Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.” The great theophany accompanying the outpouring of the Spirit is similar to those that Moses experienced on Sinai.
As the disciples are gathered together “a noise like a strong driving wind” fills the house and then “tongues of fire” from one source part and “rest on each one of them.” They are “all filled with the Holy Spirit” and begin to proclaim in different tongues or languages. A large crowd gathers when they hear the sound and as the disciples go out and proclaim the Gospel, all are amazed that they can understand the same message even though they speak different languages.
Hearing this reading we might think back to the account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). In that story, the multiple languages of the nations were explained as a result of people trying to make themselves like God or getting to heaven on their own (by building the tower). Multiple languages were seen as a punishment; people are now divided among themselves. This division, which is one way of representing broken humanity, is now healed.
The power of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit manifest the healing that has taken place. All peoples are invited to hear the Good News and to share in the divine life offered through Jesus.
The mission of Jesus continues in the life of the church, his body. St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians writes of the diversity of gifts that the Spirit confers. These gifts serve the mission. Each member of the church is given gifts, particular to their person. The gifts may be different but it is the same Spirit. Each member of the church has a particular role to play in the proclamation of the Gospel.
St. Paul uses the image of a “body” to describe the diversity of gifts within a unity unbroken in Christ Jesus. He writes: “As the body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one by, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of the one Spirit.”
Jesus inaugurates his ministry acknowledging the presence and power of the Spirit – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” The pouring forth of the same Spirit upon us his disciples is celebrated today. The Spirit whom Jesus promised is now with us. Jesus abides with us in the Holy Spirit. He gathers us, leads us, sanctifies us and sends us to bring that same message of mercy and love, in word and in deed, to the world in which we live.