4 June 2017
The Feast of Pentecost
Pentecost A (RCL)
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
It never ceases to amaze me that, after years of reading the same passages of scripture, one can notice something new each time. In the passage from John’s Gospel, the evangelist uses an unusual word to describe Jesus blowing on the disciples. The word is emphusao, which is what a flautist does to a flute. It occurs only here in the New Testament, but it occurs at least twice in the Old Testament in the LXX translation, once at Genesis 2:7 and once at 37:9. In Genesis, God forms the human being out of the dust of the earth, and then blows into its face the breath of life. In Ezekiel, God tells the prophet to prophecy to the spirit, telling it to come from the four winds and blow into slain. The evangelist wants us to connect this resurrection appearance to both of these events.
God is recreating the human being in Christ’s resurrection, and this new creation is based on the forgiveness of sin. The first humans were tempted to know good and evil, and this knowledge led to all kinds of trouble, including the creation of distinctions among humans. The new creation will be based in the forgiveness of sin, the overcoming of distinction. In John’s Gospel, Mary enters the tomb and sees the two cherubim. The empty tomb has taken the place of the inner sanctum, and Mary replaces the high priest. And, now in a room locked because of fear, Jesus sends his disciples just as the Father has sent him, to forgive sin. The new community has become the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is a completely different basis for community identity than an identity based on knowing good and evil.
When some of the spirit that rested on Moses was taken from him and placed on the seventy elders, and Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp, Joshua viewed the situation from a zero-sum perspective. This diminished Moses’ standing in the community. On the other hand, Moses viewed the situation from an open-sum perspective. If the spirit rested on Eldad and Medad, that just meant there was more to go around. The forgiveness of sin moves us into an open-sum game.
The disciples, on Pentecost, receive more than enough spirit to go around, and as they proclaim the mighty acts of God in the dialects of all who are present, the story of God’s saving deeds extends farther and farther.
It is difficult for communities to move from a fear-based identity (zero-sum — if we let others in, our identity will be watered down) to a spirit based identity, but God’s recreation of the human being calls us into that new space.