The Spirit: Hope for a new world

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau


Jn 20:19-23

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 the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Pentecost was a very ancient Jewish holiday, celebrated fifty days after the feast of the Passover. It commemorated the arrival of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. The Law was given there. Luke wants to teach that the Spirit has replaced the old law and became the new law for the Christian.

Here’s what the law of the Spirit is: it is a new heart; it is God’s life. When it enters in a person, it transforms him, and from bramble, it becomes a fruitful tree, able to spontaneously produce the works of God.

When a person is filled with the Spirit, something unheard of happens in him. He loves with the love of God himself. From that moment “he does not need someone to teach him” (1 Jn 2:27); he won’t require another law. John comes to say that the man animated by the Spirit becomes even incapable of sinning: “Those born of God do not sin, for the seed of God remains in them; they cannot sin because they are born of God” (1 Jn 3:9).

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” (Ex 20:18).

The rabbis said that at Sinai, on the day of Pentecost, when God gave the Law, his words took the form of seventy tongues of fire, indicating that the Torah was destined to all peoples (thought to be exactly seventy 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 very 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 all persons and all peoples. 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 (Gn 11:1-9). People began to misunderstand and to distance from each other. Here, the Spirit puts into action an opposite movement. He brings together those who are scattered.

Whoever lets himself be guided by the word of 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 mankind into one family where all understand and love each other.

Abridged from Fr. Fernando Armellini SCJ