Pentecost Sunday – Cycle A
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
Pentecost is an Israelite-Jewish festival. In Exodus 23:14-17 it is
called simply the harvest festival, the feast of first-fruits of the
grain harvest. In Exodus 34:22 it is called the feast of weeks, the
first-fruits of the grain harvest. In Leviticus 23:15-21 the feast is
reckoned by counting seven weeks from the beginning of the grain
harvest; it is a day of Sabbatical observance. In Numbers 28:26-31 it
is called the feast of weeks, the day of first-fruits. In Deuteronomy
16:9-12 it is the feast of weeks, which occurs seven weeks after the
beginning of the grain harvest. It is one of the three major festivals
in all the older lists of feasts.
It is probable that it was later in origin than Passover and did not
take form until the Israelites had become a primarily agricultural
community in Canaan. The time of the festival in its original
celebration must have been indefinite, since the beginning of the grain
harvest can’t be put at a certain day in the calendar. The
beginning of the grain harvest corresponds with the feast of Matzoth
(unleavened bread). When Passover and Matzoth were combined and set on
the 14th of Nisan, the festival of weeks received a regular date in the
calendar seven weeks (50 days) after Passover.
As a major feast, all Jewish males over the age of 12 were expected to try to celebrate it in Jerusalem.
1st Reading - Acts 2:1-11
The setting is 50 days after the first Easter, 10 days since Christ has
ascended and left the disciples with responsibility for administering
His Church. Before He ascended He had told them “Do not leave
Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have
heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days
you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). So,
after the ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and the Upper
Room. While there, the eleven selected by lot Matthias to take
Judas’ place, showing that the office of Bishop is to be a
perpetual office [as Acts 1:20 (KJV) says, quoting Psalm 109:8,
“and his bishopric let another take”].
2:1 When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.
120 people (Acts 1:15) in the same house? Must be a big place. Remember, there was no indoor plumbing in those days.
2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a
strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
There is a phonetic relationship in the Greek between
“pnue” (wind) and “pneuma” (spirit). In Hebrew
the word “ruah” is the same for “wind, breath,
3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
Compare with Isaiah 66:15-20. With storm wind and fire the heavenly
origin of the Spirit is expressed, and with its division, its
destination in all members of the assembly.
4 And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and
began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to
The tongues of fire yield foreign tongues.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
A startling change from the confines of the house to the surrounding
area. The Jews represent the ingathering of Israel from their
dispersion among all the nations. Recall this is one of the feasts
where one ventured to Jerusalem.
6 At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but
they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own
The miracle is not in the hearing; the Spirit is in the speakers who
speak in these foreign tongues. The root of the word translated as
“confused” is the same as the word used in the Septuagint
to describe the effect of the tower of Babel. The effect is reversed
7 They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
AAre not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Note the change in attitude of the crowd; from confused, to astounded, to amazed.
8 Then how does each of us hear them in his own
native language? 9 We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants
of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and
Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near
A more or less geographical sweep from east to west. Gives the impression of universality.
as well as travelers from Rome,
Breaking with the geographical sweep, Luke moves to the center of the
Roman empire; perhaps to prepare the way for Peter and Paul to settle
11 both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
As a conclusion to the list, western-most and eastern-most
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
This is what the disciples “expressed themselves” and “made bold proclamation”.
Thus was the Church born. In one fell swoop, the disciples are
transformed from timid persons holed up in a room to proud proclaimers
of the marvels which God has accomplished.
2nd Reading -1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
This reading should sound familiar to us as we heard the first half of
it the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time and the remainder of it the 3rd
Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C). Paul is advising the Corinthians
about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and how these gifts are to be used
to promote the common good.
3b [N]o one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the holy Spirit.
The Corinthians had inquired as to which gift of the Holy Spirit was
greater than another and had probably stopped living the Christian life
as they became concerned about their own image and status. Paul
undermines any spiritual elitism by reminding them that they had all
made this baptismal confession (Romans 10:9).
“If no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit, what
can we say about those who do name His name but do not have the Spirit?
Here we have to understand that Paul was not talking about catechumens
who had not yet been baptized but about believers and
unbelievers.” [Saint John Chrysostom (A.D. 392), Homilies on the
First Epistle to the Corinthians 29,3]
4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5
there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are
different workings but the same God who produces all of them in
The three-fold comparison of “different” –
“same” contrasts different actions with the same common
origin to emphasize that all, no matter how great or small they are
perceived to be, have the same origin and therefore the same value.
7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
These gifts are not for us to hold but for us to share. If we do not share the gifts, then the common good suffers.
“Each person receives a gift to that, governing his life by
divine constraints, he may be useful both to himself and to others
while presenting an example of good behavior.” [The Ambrosiaster
(between A.D. 366 - 384), Commentaries on Thirteen Pauline Epistles]
12 As a body is one though it has many parts, and all
the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.
Paul continues this comparison by pointing out that the human body
needs different parts to perform different functions; all of which
benefit the whole. Since the Church is the Body of Christ, it too is
formed of many different members who are to work together for the
benefit of the whole. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one
body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all
given to drink of one Spirit.
The diversity of the Church is rooted in its unity. The Spirit is
within the Church and we are called to share a common existence in
Gospel - John 20:19-23
This reading should also sound familiar as we heard it last on the 2nd
Sunday of Easter (Cycle B). What we hear about is Jesus’ first
appearance to the apostles.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week,
The first Easter Sunday. All Jesus’ appearances after Easter which are dated (time coded) are on a Sunday.
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst
Through locked doors. The disciples had barricaded themselves in the
Upper Room because they were afraid that what had happened to Jesus
would happen to them also. After all, they had been His followers.
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Shalom. An ordinary greeting which the Israelite conceived as a gift of
Yahweh. The word “Shalom” does not translate well; peace is
usually used in English translations but it does not connote the rich
meaning: “completeness, perfection, a condition in which nothing
20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The wounds of crucifixion. There is no indication that, like Thomas, the others probed the wounds with their fingers.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
All was not lost after all; their leader had returned.
21 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Jesus was sent with authority to bring about healing and repentance; to
heal the Church through forgiveness of sins. The sinful nature of man
is what had kept him from God all through the Old Covenant. He is
sending them with the same authority with which He was given.
22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.
There is a beautiful play on the Hebrew word ruah which is the same for
breath, wind, and spirit. If you recall the Baltimore Catechism
definition of a sacrament, what we have here is a sacrament in one
verse: an outward sign (He breathed on them) instituted by Christ (He
who did the breathing) to give grace (receive the Holy Spirit).
23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
The disciples (and their successors by extension) have the authority to
forgive sins in Jesus’ name. The mission of reconciliation was so
important to God that He sent His Son to institute the practice. Only
through reconciliation with God can we act as His sons and daughters;
including eat the family meal (Eucharist) which binds us all together.
“I don’t go to a man to confess to my sins; only God can
forgive sins” says the Protestant. “Neither do I”
responds the Catholic, “I go to God’s duly appointed and
commissioned representative who was given the responsibility of
forgiving (or binding) my sins as God works through him”. James
5:13-16 says “Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is
any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call
for the elders (presbyters) of the church, and let them pray over him,
anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith
will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has
committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one
another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer
of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” Notice that
you are to call the presbyters (this is the root word for priests) and
confess your sins to him. Why do I confess to a priest? Because the
Bible (and God) tells me to!
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org