Pentecost Sunday Year A
Theme of the week: Where do divisions come from? How do we heal divisions?
Life is full of divisions. In the world today, the superpowers are fighting a new Cold World over the coronavirus pandemic. In Australia, State Governments are divided on whether State borders should be open. In Western Australia where I live, without a sufficient understanding of the practicality and spiritual aspects of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, politicians are introducing a law mandating the priest to break the Confessional Seal should an offence against young children be confessed to him.
Divisions among those close to us are among the most difficult and emotionally tormenting challenges to face. Within our families, family members are divided on their religious and social values. Many Christian parents are afraid to explain the teaching of our Lord to their adult children, for fear of triggering conflicts. So to keep the peace, they keep quiet. Even in our churches, because of ambition and differences of ideas, conflicts among church members are not uncommon, brothers against brothers, sisters against sisters, ministries against ministries. That is why our Lord said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Lk 12:51-53)
What is the cause of all these? It is because of sin. Not just the sins that trigger the divisions; but also the sin of pride that blinded people to their sins, thereby perpetuating the divisions. Because of sins, people are unwilling to open their hearts to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, they cannot see eye to eye with each other on many matters. Even been in an argument where, no matter how hard you try, how reasonable you sound, the other person just shut himself out from what you are saying? Because of sins, it is as if we are speaking different languages to each other. And figuratively, we are. The superpowers are speaking different languages to each other. State Governments in Australia are speaking different languages to each other. The politicians in Western Australian are speaking different languages to the Church. Within our families and our churches, we are speaking different languages to each other.
In the Tower of Babel story (Gen 11:1-8), the sin of pride prompted the people to build a tower to heaven. These are humans who thought so highly of their ingenuity they thought they are able to rival God. We too make the same mistake often. Instead of worshipping God, we worship our own ingenuity – our engineering feats, our scientific advances, our intelligence. We are worshipping ourselves. We made ourselves into our own idol. Because of sin, as in the Tower of Babel, our languages are confused. Because of our sin, we no longer share the same vision the same ethos the same values with each other.
Where sin divides, the Holy Spirit unites. The First Reading this week describes an account of how Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on the first Pentecost Day. “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” (verse 2-3). Then something amazing happened. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” (verse 4-6) It was a reversal of the Tower of Babel!
My brothers and sisters, Pentecost is not a one-off event. We can bring Pentecost into lives everyday if we are prepared to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Not just superficial lip services, but really open ourselves to His prompting and His guidance. Like the disciples, we too can breakdown the language barriers. The question is: am I prepared to? Am I prepared to put aside my prejudice, my pride, my ambition? Am I prepared to stop worshiping myself as a false idol? Am I prepared to declare “Jesus is Lord”? As the Second Reading says, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (verse 3). It is only then that we are able to proclaim that we worship the same God; we are one body in Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (verse 12-13)
The disciples of our Lord faced the same problem of division in their times. Because of sin, the people called for Jesus to be crucified. After the crucifixion, the disciples were afraid. We hear in the Gospel this week that the disciples locked themselves in a house “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19). Then all of sudden, our Lord appeared in the room, saying to the disciples, “Peace be with you” (verse 19). Then, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (verse 22). We may think that receiving the Holy Spirit is all that is required. The truth is, receiving the Holy Spirit is not effective if I am not prepared work in partnership with Him. I need to do my part. What must I do to heal divisions? I need to forgive. And if someone need to take the first step, let it be me. And not just lip services, but real forgiveness from my heart.
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (verse 23)
The grace of forgiveness is in us. Peace be with you, my brothers and sisters.