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Pentecost is originally a Jewish feast, being one of the three festivals on which every Jewish male should go to the Temple in Jerusalem (the other two are Passover and the Feast of the Tabernacles). It was a harvest festival where the people would offer on the fiftieth day a new cereal offering to the Lord (Lev. 23:16). Later on the feast was used to commemorate the Old Covenant fifty days after the exodus from Egypt. But this covenant was broken by Israel again and again thus God promised a New Covenant which happened on another mountain, Mount Zion in Jerusalem. This Christian Pentecost also happened fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus.
There are two biblical accounts about the Pentecost, one is from St. Luke which we read from the first reading today. The other one is from St. John which we read from the gospel. Whilst both describe the same phenomenon, each has its own peculiarities which are reflections of different genre and theology. St. Luke’s account is based from the charismatic and prophetic tradition while John’s account is based from the wisdom tradition. St. Luke records the Pentecost in Acts in which he shows the Holy Spirit as the dynamic principle of the testimony that ensures the spread of the Church. That is why the Holy Spirit was depicted as tongues of fire that lodged on the heads of the apostles. The Holy Spirit animates the salvation that has been gained in and through Christ. In contrast, St. John depicted the Holy Spirit as breath or ruah in Hebrew. His theology is more inclined in the creation of the new humanity. In the Old Testament, man became alive when God breathed on him His divine breath (ruah); now in the New Testament, God breathed once again the same breath to the apostles ushering the re-creation of man. We could say then that in Pentecost man is created anew in the form of the Church. For St. John the Pentecost happened at the same time with the Resurrection as we heard from our gospel today.
This is not to confuse us who between St. John and St. Luke are right. Both of them give us different perspectives of the same event hence a deeper and clearer understanding of the Pentecost.
During the Pentecost the Holy Spirit opened a new era in salvation history wherein the Church became the new humanity. Pentecost is not just a one-time event; it continues to happen from that time on and until the end of time. Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit at the beginning of his public ministry; the apostles had been anointed at the beginning of the ministry of the Church. Each one of us has been anointed by the same Holy Spirit when we were baptized and confirmed hence the beginning of the new life in us.
The Holy Spirit is not just the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, he is our friend who dwells in us. Sometimes he is called the “forgotten God” because we do not relate much with him maybe because we do not know him much. Today, let us invite him into our homes, into our lives.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with the fires of your love…”