Today’s reflection is for Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.
In the very last book of the Bible (Chapter 21) we see Jesus, ascended to the Father, seated on his throne in glory, and worship going on in heaven. It’s a beautiful sight, indeed. Jesus says something very important that we must not miss. In verse 5, Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Today we celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples, the birth of the Church, the commissioning of its ministers, and the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham four thousand years earlier–and six thousand years before today.
You might remember the story about The Tower of Babel. In the very beginning of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, Chapter 11. Those first eleven chapters of the Bible reveal the tragedy and consequence of original sin. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, and finally, The Tower of Babel, all reveal a humanity entirely unwilling to follow very simple directions. What ensues are narratives that teach the hearer of, 1. Humanity’s sin, 2. The consequence of sin, and 3. That God’s grace has the last word–always. So it’s a cycle of sin, punishment, and grace.
God gives Adam and Eve rules, they break them and are kicked out of the garden, but God loves them and clothes them. Cain kills Abel, God condemns Cain to be a restless wanderer, but loves him still and marks him to protect him. The world is filled with wickedness, God sends the flood, but God loves his creatures and calls Noah to build an ark. Finally (and this is the key for today) we end up with the Tower of Babel. Humanity has achieved greatness without God. They seek to make their name great by building a tower to the heavens essentially supplanting God. God confuses their language and scatters them around the earth. But God loves them and…wait…where’s the grace? The pattern is broken. We see sin, and consequence, but grace is not revealed until Pentecost. It begins with Genesis chapter 12 when God calls Abraham and the history of salvation begins. However, the fullness of that grace for the whole of humanity is not realized until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. God makes US his temple. He forgives our sins. He makes us great. Simply amazing.
God worked through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve tribes, Moses, Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, the prophets, and then Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. As we bring Easter to a close, we know that Jesus suffered, died, was buried, rose again, ascended to the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. But how will we ever know Jesus that we might call out to him, be saved by Him, and cling tightly to Him–enter the Holy Spirit! We are taught that, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1COR 12:3)
Jesus sends his Spirit on Pentecost to make the sinner aware of his/her sinfulness, to convict us in the heart and to be moved to repentance! His desire is to make the sinner whole through the forgiveness of sin, to bind sinful, sorrowful, but forgiven people together and call them to holiness! He sends the Spirit to help us remember the saving acts of God and to not only guide us toward Jesus in every generation, but to make Jesus truly and substantially present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, at every Mass until he returns. That great work of the Spirit is done by God’s design through the ministers of the Church. That’s awesome.
The Gospel today teaches us that Jesus appeared to his disciples, breathed on them and said, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (JN 20:19-23)
Today, then, is not only the revelation and celebration of God’s grace to the people of Babel, and God making good on his promise to Abraham, but it is also a recognition that God powerfully sent his Holy Spirit on the Apostles so that they might continue his work of redeeming humanity. Today, through the ministers and ministry of the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, people still hear the voice of God in every generation, have the opportunity to call Jesus Lord, confess their sins, and be reunited with the God of grace and mercy.
We call these people the Church. (That’s us.) These people are not perfect, but strive mightily to be. We are the sick who day after day and week after week return to the hospital that is the church, and are healed by confession and reconciliation, are nourished by the body and blood of Jesus, and eagerly await the end of all things, when the Savior returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. We receive the Sacraments of the Church to help us to our final destination, the heavenly Jerusalem. And we fervently pray, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:30) The renewal begins in you and me, in our families and in our workplaces, in our community, and in the world. And from the throne in heaven Jesus can say in truth, “Behold, I make all things new.”