(Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Gal 5:16-25; Jn 20:19-23 or Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-15)
According to the old cliché, Timing is everything. On November 21, 1783, Benjamin Franklin, the American Ambassador to France was at the Bois de Boulogne near the palace of King Louis to witness the second experiment in human flight. Someone had already managed to ascend a few feet in a hot air balloon, but on this day, two soldiers were going to try not just ascending but actually flying with the goal of making it from one side of the Seine river to the other. There was some trouble at first, but they managed to climb nearly five hundred feet into the air, make the crossing and land safely on the other side. And they didn’t have to pay a fee to check their bags.
After this success a rather smug Parisian who knew Franklin remarked to him: “What possible use could this have?” Franklin replied: “What possible use could a newborn baby have?” Timing is everything and Franklin knew that what he witnessed that day would someday have an enormous impact on the way people lived.
In today’s readings we heard two different accounts of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the Church, each with its own unique sense of timing. Probably, the more familiar account comes to us from the Acts of the Apostles, the second volume of Luke’s Gospel and the action takes place a considerable amount of time after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. But in John’s Gospel Jesus enters the locked room where the disciples are gathered in fear and he brings the Spirit with him.
These two accounts may differ a bit in the timing, but they absolutely agree on the result: The pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Church unleashes a creative energy unknown by humanity since the beginning of Creation itself. The disciples are transformed from a trembling mass of humanity to men and women who become relentless in their preaching of the Gospel in every corner of the world. The Gospel itself becomes transformed from the memories of a few to a universal proclamation of truth, known in every human language and culture.
And the fledgling Christian community becomes transformed, finally, into the Body of Christ, the Church. As amazing as the power of the Spirit of Jesus is to the disciples and apostles, it is even more amazing to the leaders of Jerusalem and not in a good way. Much like the unnamed Parisian in the story, they were convinced that these Christians, few in number, would come to nothing—at least that was the plan in getting Jesus killed.
But remember Franklin’s rhetorical question: What possible use could a newborn baby have? What is the use of new life after all? Perhaps not much until we understand that all life comes from God. And that is what the Church is: new life; new life in Christ, the Son of God, through the Spirit. Timing is everything and at the moment the disciples receive the Holy Spirit of Jesus, they receive exactly what they need: not a placeholder for Jesus while they waited for him to return, but the Spirit of Jesus himself, to teach them, the guide them, to unify them, to work with them to open the Kingdom of God to every person in every place.
Paul tells us in the second reading: To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit, even though we are all parts of the one Body of Christ. Paul loves to talk about the Spirit because the Spirit is the ultimate understanding of what freedom really means, the kind of freedom that can only be experienced in the love of God. Ultimately, this is what the gifts of the Spirit, unique to each person, are all about: freedom. With faith in Christ, the Son of God, comes new life through the Spirit and in this new life comes the potential for what the early Church called metanoia or change: turning to Jesus.
When we hear the Pentecost account in Acts, it all sounds so automatic, doesn’t it? The Spirit descends and they all run out into the street to proclaim the gospel. This is why we need John’s account too, to remind us that the journey to becoming witnesses to Christ is not all neat and pretty; in between there is a lot of fear and trembling behind locked doors. And even though the Son of God, Jesus, and the Spirit throw open those doors, you can be assured that not everyone ran into the street with joy in their hearts. A few will always remain behind, choosing to remain in their own false sense of security, rather than embracing the freedom of God that comes in the Spirit.
The only way to make that choice, to allow the Spirit to lead us instead of fear, is through faith. Because faith alone allows us to see past the moment and to know that what we have witnessed has potential. That potential is in you and me and every believer through the Spirit, waiting for each of us to say, ‘yes’.
Brothers and Sisters, timing is everything and the time for the Spirit of Jesus, the Son of God, is now. Goodbye to fear and trembling. Goodbye to disillusionment and hopelessness. Welcome the newborn life in every believing heart that will never die again. Alleluia!
– Fr. David Kaczmarek, T.O.R.