…A Reflection on Pentecost Sunday
By Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu
Pentecost Sunday means 5 into 10, that is, 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus. So, counting 50 days backward from the Pentecost Sunday gives us the Easter Sunday. The Pentecost, otherwise known as “the Descent of the Holy Spirit”, which we meditate each time we say the Third Glorious Mystery, is a great Solemnity. This Solemnity is great because it is the confirmation and culmination of the Ascension of Christ into Heaven. It is the confirmation of Christ’s Ascension because it is fulfillment of His promise to send a Paraclete – Comforter when He ascends into Heaven (see John 16:7-15). It is the culmination of Christ’s Ascension because, in fact, it truly confirms the promise made Him. Hence, if Christ ‘goes up’ and the Divine Spirit ‘comes down” afterwards, then, that which confirms His promise becomes also the highest point of the same promise.
Pentecost is the outpouring of the veruah Elohîm (Spirit of God). In fact, as echoed and re-echoed in the Theology of the Church Fathers, Pentecost [Acts 2:1-13] is the reversal of the Tower of Babel [Genesis 11:1-9], when both events are compared. In this comparison, one sees how the former surpasses the latter.
In the Tower of Babel, the united humanity was divided into various languages in confusion; in the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit united the divided humanity through the language of the Word of God. This unity indeed becomes the fruit of the promise made by the Word of God in the Person of Jesus Christ, as against, the words of humans personified in the figures climbing the Babel Tower. Thus, while the ascent of the tower of Babel makes men’s wicked thoughts known, the descent and action of the Holy Spirit is a realization of Christ’s promise.
In the Tower of Babel, humans wanted to ascend to God on their own accord; in the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon men to lead them to God. The ascending intention of the former is a demonstration of the vice of human pride, while the descent of the latter is a pragmatic portrayal of divine humility. Therefore, while humans at Babel tell God that they are imperfect, God in the Pentecost tells the same humans that we need Him to attain perfection.
The Tower of Babel of the Old Testament portrays the weakness of humanity; the Pentecost of New Testament reveals God as the strength of the same humanity in renewing the face of the earth. The weakness of humans in the former is as a result of selfishness to be like God, while the strength of God in the latter is the evidence of God’s selflessness in desiring humans to be like and with Him.
The Tower of Babel exposes humanity devoid of prayer; the Pentecost shows the result of the effects of prayer by the Divinity. Pentecost is God’s invitation of man to be in Communion with Him, in contrast with Babel’s tower which was man’s invitation of disunity and disintegration.
The Tower of Babel tells how empty the human person is; the Pentecost shows how generous God is through His Gifts and Fruits of His Spirit. The empty man at Babel is devoid of divine inspiration, but emptiness of the same man was filled by the in-breathing of the Divine Spirit.
In the Tower of Babel, man approached God in a revolution; in the Pentecost, the same God approached man in Sanctification. Man gave God blasphemy in the former, but in the latter, the blasphemy purified in reparations, as demonstrated in the willful acceptance of suffering by the disciples for the sake of the ascended Christ.
The Event of the Tower of Babel shows man’s limitation; yet the Pentecost shows God’s superiority over man. The focus of Babel’s phenomenon was anthropological on man who made himself the centre of all. On the contrary, Pentecost’s focus was theological – on God as the source and summit of man’s sanctification.
The Tower of Babel depicts an entity without a mother; in the Pentecost, God explains that an entity is incomplete without a mother. Unlike the Babel scenario which has no proper identity, in the Pentecost God instituted an entity with His Divine identity, and named it the Church, the Mystical Body of that same ascended Christ. In the Pentecost, God tells us that His Church should have a special place for His Mother. Her name is Maria.
Therefore, Pentecost contains what the Tower of Babel was devoid of – a living likeness of the Kingdom of God. This is because the Church, by her very nature, is of divine institution as against Babel’s tower which is by human institution. Therefore, while the Tower of Babel is man’s initiative, the Pentecost is by God’s inspiration. Consequently, the event of Pentecost, which is God’s act of sanctification of human history by the Holy Spirit, overthrows the Tower of Babel on account of the truth that it comes from the Right Hand of the Eternal Father, where the ascended Christ is seated. Therefore, the Pentecost is the consequence of the Ascension. This is the reason Pentecost brings the Easter Season to an end.
Pentecost is the culmination of Easter because it is an extended Theophany – revelation of God’s sanctifying nature through the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. This is depicted in the words for the Holy Spirit such as hagios pneuma in Greek, Spiritus Sanctus in Latin, and veruah hakkodesh in Hebrew. By our sins, we remain in Babel, but with the action of the Holy Spirit on us, we become Pentecostal, that is, possessed by the Spirit of God, who through the Sacraments, have made our bodies and souls His own temple. Therefore, it is always binding and binding always that we are to allow the Holy Spirit to inspire and influence us, so as to imitate Jesus Christ, to the Eternal Father.
Come O Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of the faithful! And enkindle in them the fire of Your Love! Amen! Alleluia!
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Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu writes from Onitsha, Anambra State.