Pentecost reflection from NCR and Mary McGlone CSJ
When Paul speaks of the differing gifts within the body of Christ, he highlights the paradoxical reality that the more unified the people become, the more their personal identity is strengthened. The more they get involved as integral parts of the community, the more their individual gifts are brought out in service to others. The more they understand their particular call from the Lord, their unique manifestation of the Spirit, the more they will understand and cherish being part of the whole body of Christ.
Or, building on Paul’s homey metaphor: The more the hand is called on to scratch the head, the better the hand gets at it and the happier the head, which in turn keeps nourishing the hand’s muscles.
Up to that point, Paul’s teaching applies to any community that has learned noncompetitive cooperation. It is much like the socialist ideal that calls for all to give what they can and receive what they need. Everyone who is a part of it can live well. But Paul calls this body the body of Christ, and that orients this community beyond itself.
This is where John’s rendition of the gift of the Spirit comes in.
Instead of having Pentecost 50 days after Easter, John portrays Jesus bestowing the Spirit on his disciples on the evening of the first day — the day of the Resurrection. As the disciples were huddled together for mutual protection, Jesus became present among them and blessed them with his peace. Then he sent them out, and with his next breath, he filled them with his own Spirit.
The Spirit Jesus shared gave them power for the two-dimensional work of reconciliation. Just as Jesus had offered peace to his failed disciples, they were commissioned to do the same for others, freeing them from being defined by a sinful past so that they could enjoy peace with God.
The disciples were also sent to do as Jesus had done in denouncing those whose closed minds or systems impede the spread of God’s peace in the universe. The ones whose sins are retained are those who are closed in on themselves. In the words of Pope Francis, “Their hearts are open only to the limited horizon of their own immanence and interests, and as a consequence they neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness” (“Joy of the Gospel”).
The feast of Pentecost is meant to be a blowout celebration that reminds us of the unfathomable power we have been given to create a community of universal solidarity. Pentecost celebrates the fact that the Gospel can be understood in every time and culture because it fulfills the deepest yearning of human hearts.
With all of our bewildering differences, Pentecost tells us that we are all such a part of one another that sharing God’s peace is really possible. That is the message we are called to believe and proclaim by the way we live. To the extent that we believe it, it will become true.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet and a historical theologian currently writing the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States.]