May 24, 2015
There are three possible Gospel texts for the Feast of Pentecost. The first, John 7:37-39, is for the Vigil Mass. Either John 14:15-16, 23b-26 or John 20:19-23 are texts for Masses on the Feast.
John 7:37-39 (For the Vigil Mass)
37 On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, "Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: 'Rivers of living water will flow from within him.'" 39 He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
This reading is especially appropriate because Pentecost is the last day of the Easter Season - the season when most adults and children are received into the Church through the waters of Baptism. This was even more true for the early Christians. Most new members were received into the church at the Easter Vigil. Those few who could not be received at the Vigil were baptized at Pentecost. No baptisms were celebrated at other times of the because the presence of the community of believers was an essential element to the rite of baptism. The experience of the early church as gathering at Pentecost was shaped by generations of people who had been received as full members of the community at the Easter Vigil or the celebration of Pentecost.
This Gospel text is very short. The feast that is referred to in the first verse of the text is the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. It was the third and most favored festival. All Jewish men were compelled to attend each year. During the feast, simple structures were built that reminded the people of their dwellings during their years in the desert. The roof was typically covered with branches that would block the sun but permit one to see the stars at night. The feast was celebrated when most of the harvest had been gathered. Each night the people gathered around an altar waving palm branches and the priest poured water that was brought from the pool of Siloam, thanking God for the rain that produced the harvest and the water that flowed from the rock into the desert. Later the celebration took on another layer of meaning and it became a celebration of God giving the Jews the law and making them God’s chosen people. It was on the last day of this celebration that Jesus stood and declared that he was the living water and invited all to come to him. The early Christians replaced both the grain harvest and the law in the Jewish feast with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
1. What is your experience of celebration that goes on for days in your family or community?
2. What is your experience of living in situations where access to water for drinking, bathing, cooking, and watering plants and animals was extremely limited?
3. How is Jesus standing up before you and the assembly saying:
“Let anyone who thirsts, come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says; ‘Rivers of living water will flow from him’”?
4. For what are people in your community thirsting?
5. For what are people of the world thirsting?
6. For what is the church thirsting?
7. For what are you thirsting?
John 14:15-16, 23b-26 (For the Feast)
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.
23b "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me. 25 "I have told you this while I am with you. 26 The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you.”
The fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel returns to Jesus’ farewell address. The reading is meant to prepare the disciples for a time when Jesus will no longer be with them in the ways that had become familiar. The text focuses on love that motivates one to act in ways that manifests love for others. It also links the person who truly loves Jesus with the one who acts on Jesus’ word, and both the Father and Jesus dwell within that person. The text goes so far as to say that those who do not keep Jesus’ word are those who do not truly love Jesus. But the text does not say that the Father and He do not “dwell” with them.
Here we find the beginning of a theology of Trinity. The Early Church is beginning to define the role of each person of the Trinity and how they are related one to the other.
1. To what extent do you attempt to do what those who love you ask of you?
2. What is going within you when you act in ways that are contrary to what those people have asked of you?
3. How does this link between “keeping the word of Jesus” and truly being a person who loves Jesus resound in you?
4. Who are the people you have loved who are no longer alive? Do you do carry on traditions or activities in their memory?
5. What do you think Jesus is saying to the disciples by promising to send them the “Advocate to be with you always?”
6. How do you experience the presence of Jesus in your life?
John 20:19-23 (For the Feast)
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 (Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
The third Gospel text for Pentecost is also from John’s Gospel. The text presents a different kind of experience of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples than is found in the Acts of the Apostles (the first reading for Masses on the Feast). Here in the Gospel, even through the disciples have gathered in fear, they are sent out just as the Father sent Jesus himself. They have real reason to be afraid that those who arrested, tried and crucified Jesus are likely to treat them the same way if they carry on His mission.
The presence of the risen Lord is not impeded by the physical restraint of a locked door. The crucified Jesus stands in their midst and greets them with “peace,” despite the locked doors and their emotional state. This greeting of peace is also a prayer for health, prosperity and all good that comes with the end times. Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit - an action that mirrors God breathing life into Adam. The disciples receive the power to both bind and forgive sins, an expression that names the two extremes but is intended to communicate the full range of power between the two extremes. In John’s Gospel, sin is the refusal to accept Jesus and his teaching. The newly baptized in the early Christian community would associate this “sending” with their responsibility to admit or deny baptism, and would experience harmony with Jesus in His sending them out into the world as he had been sent by the Father.
1. How do you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in your own life? Have there been times when the Holy Spirit seemed to be present in dramatic ways and times when the Spirit has been gently present to you… as gently as your own breath?
2. How did God send Jesus into the world? As your reflect on the four of the gospels what would you describe as hallmarks of how Jesus was present to people of his day?
3. How are those hallmarks present in the ways you are present in the world today?
4. When you hear Jesus speak of forgiveness or binding of sin, what events in Jesus’ ministry are brought to mind?
5. In the text, the disciples thought that they had gathered in safety behind locked doors, but they discovered that they were to be leaving their locked room. Are you open to God working in similar ways in your life?
6. Have you ever been afraid of what God might be asking of you?
7. Have you experienced God’s ability to be present despite barriers in your own life or the life of others?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF. and Joe Thiel.
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A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini.
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