Pentecost Sunday – 23 May 2021
Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps. 104:1ab+24ac, 29bc-30, 31, 34; Gal 5:16-25; John 15:26-27, 16:12-15
Theme: “Lord, send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30)

The Pentecost event recounted in today’s first reading inaugurated a new era in the disciples’ self-understanding as a community of followers of Christ. From a lost, frightened, and huddled group, they were transformed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into a community that was empowered to encounter others “from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem” and to speak with them “in [their] own languages” about “God’s deeds of power” (2:5,11).

Renewal and transformation have long been recognized as fundamental characteristics of the Holy Spirit. While it is not presented as a “person” in the Hebrew scriptures, ancient Israel understood the Spirit to be a “divine power capable of transforming the human being and the world” as a principle of order in the first account of creation (Gen 1:2), life (Gen 2:7), guidance (Is 11:2), and healing (Ezek 36:27) (Sestieri, 1). Further to its action in the world since the dawn of creation, the Pentecost event in Acts of the Apostles reveals the Spirit to be a dynamic force that thereafter animates the mission of the church in transforming the earth in fulfillment of God’s reign of justice, love and peace. In other words, the Spirit is bestowed upon the disciples in a way that builds them up and strengthens them for a new era – “the age of the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1076), which “is sent to announce, bear witness, make present, and spread the mystery of the communion of the Holy Trinity (Catechism, §738). The “age of the Church” is the age of “mission.” In the gospel, Jesus assures the disciples that they will not be alone as they “testify” on his behalf because the “Advocate” will come to guide them in this mission.

While Pentecost stands today as a theologically distinct Christian feast, its roots lie deep in ancient Israel’s celebration of the “Feast of Weeks” or “Shavu’ot” (Lev 23:15-21; 2 Macc 12:31-32). Originally a harvest festival, the offering of two loaves of bread made from the first wheat crop of the season highlighted the “partnership of human beings with God in giving food to the world” (Waskow, 192). After the fall of the Temple, the “Feast of Weeks” became a festival on which to celebrate the time when Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai (Ex 19-20; 2 Chr 15:10-15). Marianne Dacy states that the study of Torah is considered to be an act of “restoring” or “repairing” the world, which is central to the Jewish tradition (Dacy, 51). Lawrence Kushner affirms Dacy’s statement when he explains that, “in Jewish spirituality, perhaps the most important task in life is to find what is broken in our world and repair it. The commandments of the Torah instruct us not only how to live as Jews, but in so doing how to mend creation” (Kushner, 60).

For baptized Christians, the celebration of Pentecost is an occasion that summons us to reflect on our participation in the mission of proclaiming the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ as well as the ongoing renewal of our world following Jesus’ commandment of love, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] What does “mission” mean to you today? [2] How does an awareness of the ancient roots of Pentecost continue to enrich your celebration of this feast?

Bibliography: Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York, 1997); Dacy, Let Us Rejoice:  The Jewish Roots of Christian Feasts (Queensland, 2008); Kushner, Jewish Spirituality:  A Brief Introduction for Christians (Vermont, 2001); Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy:  A Modern Guide to Jewish Holidays (Boston, 1982); Sestieri, “The Jewish ‘Roots’ of the Holy Spirit” ( jubilee_2000/ magazine/documents/  ju_mag_01021998_p-24_en.html).

This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Carla Thomas OP, Trinidad and Tobago/Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2018


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