Homily for the Pentecost Sunday, Year B

Posted by Father Aaron on May 21, 2021

Acts 2:1-11/ Psalm 104/ 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13/ John 20:19-23 

Theme: The Holy Spirit: the Animator of Our Ministry

The disciples who gathered in the upper room on Pentecost Sunday had gone through the apparent collapse of their dreams about the Messiah. The events of Good Friday had been a terrible blow to their hopes but Easter Sunday was a turning point. The Risen Christ gave them a new dream and a better hope. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity. As a person, he presupposes a relationship. No Christian can live apart from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is, therefore, a unifying force in the Body of Christ, the Church.

Vance Havner once said “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God” The early Church had none of the things that we think are so essential for success today- buildings, money, political influence, social status and yet the Church won multitudes for Christ and saw many Churches established throughout the Roman world. Why? Because, the Church had the power of the Holy Spirit igniting her ministry. That same Holy Spirit is available to us today to make us effective witnesses for Christ. The ministry of the Spirit is to glorify Christ in the life and witness of the believer (John 16:14). 

In the First Reading, St. Luke reiterates the fact that the conditio sine qua non for the Pentecost event was unity. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). However, the gifts of the Holy Spirit were distributed among the disciples, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them” (Acts 2:3). Thus, there was unity in diversity as far as gifts were concerned.

Furthermore, it also reminds us that it is the same Spirit that distributes the gifts and so no gift is more important than the other. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church puts it so beautifully: “Whether these charisms be very remarkable or more simple and widely diffused, they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation since they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church.” (Lumen Gentium, Paragraph 12).

Again, I must emphasise that the Holy Spirit is not violent as some people think. Instead, it is a gentle Spirit. We are told that “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). The simile “like” as used is just for comparison; the Spirit was compared to a violent wind perhaps to emphasise the fact that when we receive the Holy Spirit, it must necessarily stir our timid hearts and cause us to witness. Paul, therefore, admonishes Timothy in these words “For I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self- discipline” (2Timothy 1:6-7).

Anyone who truly experiences the Holy Spirit cannot but bear witness to Jesus. Such was the experience of the disciples. Their behavior amazed the crowd and in their astonishment, they remarked “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in our own native language” (Acts 2:7b-8).

It is this unity in diversity as regards the gifts of the Holy Spirit that the second reading brings out explicitly. One of the marks of an individual’s maturity is a growing understanding of and appreciation for his own body. There is a parallel in the spiritual life: as we mature in Christ, we gain a better understanding of the Church, which is Christ’s body. When as Christians, we allow division to take root among us, and then it is obvious that we are not maturing in our faith.

There was growing tension or division in the Corinthian community and this urged Paul to write this piece to them to remind them that they form one body and it is the same spirit that is at work in them all. In this section of the text, Paul stresses on unity in the body of Christ in four main areas. 

The first bond of spiritual unity for Christians is that we confess the same Lord (vv. 1-3). If indeed we claim to confess the same Lord, then there cannot be division among us. Division and dissension among God’s people only weakens their united testimony to a lost world (John 17:20-21).

Secondly, by virtue of this Spiritual bond, we depend on the same God (vv. 4-6). There is a Trinitarian emphasis here: “the same Spirit … the same Lord … the same God.” We individually may have different gifts, ministries and ways of working but it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Why then do we compete among ourselves? 

Thirdly, we minister to the same body because of this spiritual bond (vv. 7-11). The gifts are given for the good of the whole Church. They are not for individual enjoyment, but for corporate employment. When we accept our gifts with humility, then we use them to promote harmony in the Church. No Christian should complain about his or her gifts, nor should any believer boast about his or her gifts. We are many members in one body, ministering to each other.

Finally, as a result of this spiritual bond, we have experienced the same baptism (vv. 12-13). The baptism of the Spirit occurs at conversion when the Spirit enters the believing sinner, gives him new life and makes his body the temple of God. All believers have experienced this once- for-all baptism; it need not be repeated. Therefore, because of the Spirit, which we received at conversion, we are all members of the body of Christ. Race, social status, wealth, or even sex do not matter anymore as we fellowship and serve the Lord.

The Gospel reading sums up everything about the Pentecost events. As a Christian community, we are to be an instrument of God’s peace to a world of fragile peace and broken promises. Jesus did not condemn the disciples for their unfaithfulness; he gave them peace in place of their betrayal.

Again, he commissioned them as a body and not as individuals. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me so do I send you” (John 20:21). It is important to note that Jesus did not single out the Apostles. Remember that on the day of Pentecost about 120 people were gathered in the upper room including some women (Acts 1:15). Therefore, the universal call of every baptised Christian to a life of evangelisation is affirmed here. 

It must have given the disciples great joy to realise that in spite of their many failures, the Lord was still entrusting them with so heavy and important a task. Jesus not only reassured them of his continuous presence, he also enabled them through the power of the Holy Spirit by breathing on them.

In sum, like our Lord’s death at Calvary, Pentecost was a once-for-all event that will not be repeated. The Church may experience new filling of the Spirit and certainly patient prayer is an essential element to spiritual power. No matter how we have fared in the past year in our relationship with the Holy Spirit, He makes everything new. Today is no exception. May he renew and animate our Spirit so that we can mature in our Christian life and not to continue to drink milk.