Our lives should reflect the Spirit

Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Philip Tay, OCD

May 17, 2024

Pentecost Sunday (B)
Readings: Acts of the Apostle 2:1-11; Galatian 5:16-25
Gospel: John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

I am quite certain that most, if not all, of us know about the celebration of Pentecost. The image that comes to mind is always that of the Holy Spirit raining down gifts on the Apostles. However, how many us know the actual origin of this celebration? Pentecost is a Jewish feast that has been celebrated since the Old Testament, being called the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks in Jewish tradition. It is mentioned in five places in the first five books — in Exodus 23, Exodus 24, Leviticus 16, Numbers 28, and Deuteronomy 16. It was the celebration of the beginning of the early weeks of harvest. In Palestine, there were two harvests each year. The early harvest came during the months of May and June; the final harvest came in the Fall. Pentecost was the celebration of the beginning of the early wheat harvest, which meant that Pentecost always fell sometime during the middle of the month of May or sometimes in early June.

There were several festivals that took place before Pentecost. There was Passover, there was Unleavened Bread, and there was the Feast of Firstfruits. The Feast of Firstfruits was the celebration of the beginning of the barley harvest. According to the Old Testament, you would go to the day of the celebration of Firstfruits, and beginning with that day, you would count off 50 days. The fiftieth day would be the Day of Pentecost. So Firstfruits is the beginning of the barley harvest and Pentecost is the celebration of the beginning of the wheat harvest. Since it was always 50 days after Firstfruits, and since 50 days equals seven weeks, it always came a “week of weeks” later. Therefore, they either called it the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks.

The early Christians kept the feast because they were mostly Jewish people and they retained the festival as part of their new tradition. What began as a feast celebrating the harvest of the land evolved into a “spiritual” harvest of the land. We can see this in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and they began to speak in foreign languages. Devout men from various regions who spoke different languages found that they were able to understand what was being spoken because each heard it in their own language. This is also why when we think of Pentecost, we only think of this gift of tongues, But Pentecost is so much more than that. The descent of the Holy Spirit brings us more precious gifts than just tongues. Even St. Paul tells us that the gift of tongues is the least of the gifts. Our focus should be on the “spiritual” harvest that the Holy Spirit brings for us. What is this “spiritual” harvest then?

Our second reading today from St Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives us the answer. The opening line tells us that if we are guided by the Spirit, we will be in no danger of yielding to self-indulgence, since self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit. There will be times when we need to discern and ask ourselves whether what we are doing is really guided by the Spirit or simply a way of making ourselves feel good? What comes from the Spirit is always good but sometimes we can go overboard and give too much importance to the gift of tongues. Let us look at what St Paul says about self-indulgence. When self-indulgence is at work, some of the things that can happen is feud and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions, envy and other similar things. Sounds familiar? St Paul also warns us that those who behave like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. If a person is truly gifted and guided by the Spirit, their behaviour will be the opposite of self-indulgence.

This is why St Paul teaches that there are more precious gifts that the Spirit can offer. He lists them as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. If our lives are truly a manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit, then our lives should be a reflection of what the Spirit can bring.

This is why it is more profitable for our souls and the souls of others if we desire these gifts instead of just the gift of tongues. We do not have to be sad or envious just because others can pray in tongues and we are not able to. What is more important is the way we live our lives as disciples of Christ, who go out to sow seeds and reap an abundant harvest. We can only belong to Christ if we crucify all our self-indulgent desires

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