Today we need to reflect on our place in the community of believers. There is a clear communal dimension and no suggestion of private experiences. In the readings we seen a great transformation in Jesus’ disciples accomplished by Holy Spirit. Originally, they did not understand or care about Jesus’ vision. They were more concerned with their own agendas, ambitions, and interests. They showed their true colours, at least the men, when Jesus was led to be crucified.
In that upper room, the disciples in hiding were unexpectedly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit which changed their outlook on life, their attitudes, and behaviour. Jesus comes and offers them peace. It includes the voice of compassion and tenderness. He proves who he is by showing them his wounds which will never go away. Jesus offers them peace and gives them a task to go and do as he was also sent to go and do. They have that example of the washing of the feet. They understood who Jesus truly was and that being a disciple meant – living passionately for the reign of God where gospel values gave new life to the world. New horizons stretched the limits of their understanding as to what it meant to belong to God’s people. At one point Peter criticised the leaders for having crucified Jesus. Could that not apply to us, ’People of Australia …..you have blood on your hands! You are crucifying Jesus all over again - in the poor, the neglected, the innocent people we incarcerate and detain. You must repent for your support or silence for the sin of violence and injustice rather than seeking a just peace; of racism, sexism, indifference to starvation; of corporate greed and torture; of refusing to stop the manufacture of nuclear weapons; and abusing the environment; and turning your back on earth’s impoverished people’.
The Spirit’s coming at Pentecost as a mighty wind and tongues of fire does not compare to the changes where courage and openness to speak out overcame fear, apathy, and indifference. As people of the Spirit, we must exercise the power we have been given (cf. Ascension readings) and use the new ‘tongues.’ God’s voice speaks through people who have been oppressed, brutalised and marginalised and has been speaking for over five years through Australia’s First Nations People for a voice to parliament, a voice to us as a nation, a voice and not just a census statistic, through the gift of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It was rejected by those in government with its own narrow agendas, ambitions, and interests. How threatening can it be to have First Nations People in Australia and around the world speak their truth and for others to hear it.
Our God does not silence but empowers the speech of oppressed, brutalised, and marginalised people. Pentecost was a rebellion against those that would seek to restrict God to a single, respectable or official language of a single, righteous people or a single, systematic theology. Pentecost was a protest in which God refused to be silenced by the language of the powerful. The Spirit’s presence is not restricted to the little acre of ecclesiastical landscape but occurs where it is least expected such as liberation movements: peace groups, women, unions and workers, poor, black and Indigenous, gay and lesbian, etc. And how we try to stifle or silence these!! God opposes any tendency to force unity through sameness and exclusivity, or conflating righteousness with homogeneity, or demanding people conform to arbitrary standards of respectability. God speaks in the streets – not within the walls of temple religiosity, the halls of power, and the limited bounds of respectability. God’s voice was and is heard in all languages and in all peoples – beyond age, gender, or social status. God speaks through all and is present in all, and not only welcomes all languages but actively becomes incarnated through them. ‘Finding one’s own voice, however haltingly, imparts the power of the Spirit crying out. The boldness to hear the claim of conscience and follow its deep impulses even in the face of loss; the courage to taste righteous anger and allow it to motivate critical resistance to evil; the willingness to utter the prophetic word – these occurrences inscribe the movement of the Spirit’s compassion into the ambiguity of the world’ (Elizabeth Johnson csj She Who Is, p. 126).
The Spirit comes continually to encourage and inspire us despite our failures and imperfections, our failures to speak when necessary or see what is before us. Let’s not forget that Peter reminds of the fact that at Pentecost ‘they were all together in one place’ – the ‘they’ were those he previously addressed as ‘brothers and sisters’ with ‘the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers’ (Acts 1:14). Obviously, gender, age and status were not impediments to receiving the Spirit!
We need to go beyond fear-filled and self-protective past narratives towards embracing all into full unity by getting women into the picture as well as people of other ethnic and social backgrounds, and people often marginalised by institutions and churches who fail to play ‘our game’; and finally the so called ‘enemy’ whom Jesus calls us to love. This would be the community – the upper room church – that is touched by fire and able to transform the world. This is the ‘civilisation of love’ Brother Philip Pinto, former Congregational Leader of the Christian Brothers, referred to in the 2013 Trocaire Lecture or the ’culture of encounter’ and ’revolution of tenderness’ that Pope Francis often reminds us of.
The gospel has political consequences. It causes us to ask who is missing. It causes us to ask about people who are poor, abandoned, abused, hungry, refugees, sick, violated in war and conflict, etc. And not only to ask questions, but we are reminded that we have the power to liberate people from ‘sins’ such as hunger, disease, poverty, violence, fear of death, abuse, and any oppressive religion.
The Spirit comes into our hearts, among us, and takes us into the streets. If we want to see where the Spirit is at work look where locked doors are opened; where people bring down barriers and walls that institutions erect; where people nonviolently say no to the unjust treatment of innocent and vulnerable people; where fear gives way to courage and listen respectfully to the other; where people boldly call out racism, xenophobia and fear of the stranger; where people share with others, especially the poor and needy; where people seek peace and reconciliation in the face of war, violence and terrorism; where people remind us of the common good and need for conversion and respect for the earth.
The Spirit is with us today when we continue to journey together in spite of great human frailty and suffering.. It is with us because there are heroes among us who choose justice over law, nonviolence over violence and pay the price. It is with us because men and women from many nations and faiths hear the same message of peace, compassion and human dignity and incarnate it in their lives and groups. The power we receive is not about fire but presence. The Spirit is near suffering and pain, loss, and fear people endure despite times we cannot see the visible sign of the resurrection. In Palestine and around the world people like the disciples fear the ominous knock on the door; many live in fear and suffering for their children who are victims of violence, vilification and hunger from Syria, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Mexico. Girls are killed just because they are girls. Let’s not forget the violence even in so called democratic countries where police kill poor and Black people. Gift are meant to be unwrapped. We need to unwrap the Spirit for the gift of courage to respond.
At Pentecost, God gave a divine voice to all the languages, to the marginalised, to the street. Whenever a language or a voice is suppressed, it is God’s voice, too, that is being silenced. To truly celebrated Pentecost let us listen for the voice of God among the silenced, the powerless, the ignored, the forgotten, the oppressed, the nobodies.