The gifts of the Spirit in our quest to transform the world

Last week, we celebrated Pentecost, the coming down of the Holy Spirit. We marvelled at the transformation of the disciples of Jesus.

Jun 10, 2017

By Anil Netto
Last week, we celebrated Pentecost, the coming down of the Holy Spirit. We marvelled at the
transformation of the disciples of Jesus.

Just weeks earlier, in the wake of Jesus’ death on the cross, they had been reduced to pitiful wretches cowering in the shadows, all hope lost. And yet, after the coming of the Holy Spirit in full force, they were suddenly on fire, filled with new courage and wisdom to bring the Good News to the world.

It was a journey that took the followers of Jesus to new destinations and cities, as they fanned out from Jerusalem and Galilee in different directions.

And just as their leader, Jesus, had travelled to the local seat of power in his time —Jerusalem — and was executed there after he shook up the city, this time the leaders among the disciples, Peter and Paul, travelled to the seat of the powerful empire in Rome — and were duly executed there. They had an inkling of what was in store for them:

“In all truth I tell you, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go. In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God.

After this he said, ‘Follow me.’” (John 21:18-19)

Despite this ominous hint of the fate that awaited them, the apostles did not retreat. From their disappointment and despondency after Good Friday, they were transformed into new men and women. What transformed these broken men and women and gave them the courage and strength to go forth into the world?

If we are looking for proof of the Resurrection, look no further than the complete change in the apostles and disciples after the Resurrection. Their sense of hopelessness and despondency had given way to a renewed and all-consuming Hope in the project that Jesus started.

St Augustine once famously said: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage.

Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

This message has profound significance for us today in the 21st Century. We live at a time when multiple serious challenges confront us. As expected, widespread income inequality has created many social problems.

There is a sense of insecurity, even stress in the air, which occasionally breaks out in isolated cases of violence or rough justice or attempts to take the laws into one’s hands.

One of the factors behind such stress could be the fairly flat income levels, even unemployment, at a time when the cost of living — and debt levels — are rising.

And as many of us are all too aware, corruption has reached staggering proportions, draining public funds, sapping the vitality of the land and denying many ordinary people what should have been rightfully theirs.

Meanwhile, climate change — global warming and rising sea levels — looms before us. Public green spaces, the forests, the hills and even the sea are gobbled up in the name of ‘development.’ Bigotry and even extremism are rearing their ugly heads.

We can either look forward to the future with Hope or Hopelessness.

If we sink into Hopelessness — and this would be all too easy — then our offspring will be Fear (of what the future holds), and Apathy/Self-interest. If we fear the problems of the world or the reactions to any attempts to remedy the situation, then we would rather not think about these problems ie, we retreat into apathy.

Then, we would only focus on ourselves and shut out the outside world — ie, slip into Self-interest. This may be understandable if we are struggling or labouring hard to feed a family and raise children. But if we have enough and still neglect to think of our ‘neighbours’ and the world around us, then that is a barrier to our being instruments of change. We are not living up to the call to be the Salt of the world.

But if we choose Hope instead of Hopelessness, then that should be accompanied by a certain righteous anger or Indignation of the way things are — which springs from a realisation that this is not the way Yahweh wants the world to be. The world was meant to be beautiful and whole and life-giving, and we were meant to live life to the full and to care for Creation.

This Indignation would be the same sort of righteous anger that Jesus manifested in his teachings and in the Temple when he singled out for withering criticism those who burdened the people and weighed them down with laws and taxes that prevented the people from realising their full potential.

Together with that indignant anger, we are called to have Courage — the same prophetic courage that the Apostles displayed at Pentecost — to be able to read the signs of the time and discern how far we have strayed from the vision of the kingdom.

If Yahweh’s Spirit finds a home in us — we are temples of the Spirit, after all — then we have an array of much-needed tools at our disposal, as Isaiah 11:2 tells us: “On him will rest the spirit of Yahweh, the spirit of wisdom and insight, the spirit of counsel and power, the spirit of knowledge and fear of Yahweh.”

Now, that is a formidable battery of gifts. Many of us go through life using only a fraction of these gifts that have been abundantly bestowed on us. Imagine, if we claim these gifts and make full use of them to transform the world around us, what a beautiful, just and compassionate world we can build.

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Sunday Reflection

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time: That woman is Ourselves

Mark calls her “a Greek” but Matthew uses the ancient name “Canaanite,” a reference to the original inhabitants of the Holy Land, who were conquered by the Israelites some twelve centuries before the time of Jesus. Matthew recognises that this encounter between the woman from the area of Tyre and Sidon and Jesus is about an outsider “wanting in.” So he heightens the drama by identifying her as a member of that group of pagans who were Israel’s first enemies (after the Egyptians, of course).