“The Spirit of Truth Comes” — Pentecost — May 24, 2015

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13)

The Greek word pneuma can be translated “wind, breath or spirit.” So when the sound at the door is “like the rush of a violent wind,” you should answer, and you had better be prepared to have your world turned upside down. Or right-side up. Because according to the Acts of the Apostles, that would be the Holy Spirit announcing its coming; and as Jesus promised in the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth,” who “will guide you into all the truth.” The truth is not necessarily staid, polite, reticent and reserved. It tends to rock the world and shake up expectations.

On Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus were all together in a house when the Holy Spirit blew in with a charismatic plan of action that I suspect was not previously on their minds. The ensuing commotion was so loud and raucous that a crowd gathered outside, and some of the crowd suggested that perhaps the disciples of Jesus had been drinking that morning (Acts 2:13). It was not alcohol that fueled them, though, but the Holy Spirit showing them in deed some of the truths about what it meant to be the church.

First, the disciples “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” These languages, heard by others in their own native tongues, were a clear sign that the church was not simply a phenomenon meant for a small corner of the world, but for all people. The church’s mission was to be universal.

Second, the Holy Spirit drew an “amazed and astonished” crowd. Some of them sneered at the disciples, but the majority were attracted to this strange witness of God. The crowds were open to the truth because they had witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in their midst and the joy of the disciples.

But while the truth always shakes up the world, the Holy Spirit does not always come like a violent wind. The charism of tongues and the presence of large crowds clamoring to find out what is going on are not essential to the work of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit can come quietly, gently, like a light breeze.

Some gifts are so subtle that they go unnoticed by the crowd. The Holy Spirit has so infused the lives of some Christians that their kind words, their loving service, their moral support and their listening ear change lives in the quietest of ways. Apart from the din of crowds, their gifts emanate gently to all who encounter them. A kind word can be “the utterance of knowledge,” a shoulder to cry on “the utterance of wisdom,” and “all these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

The apostle Paul speaks of the variety of gifts given to the body of Christ through its individual members. While some of these charisms might seem like “greater” spiritual gifts, like the working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues, Paul stresses that though there are varieties of gifts, services and activities, there is “the same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” “the same God who activates all of them in everyone” and it is God’s love that is the foundation for all of them.

The Holy Spirit might shake you up, like a rush of the wind knocking at the door, or calm you down, by the comforting movement of grace; we experience today the same Spirit Jesus gave to the apostles and that brought them together in unity at Pentecost. That same Spirit of truth is here now, manifested in the lives of your brothers and sisters and in you.

Each of us has gifts, and we never know when they are needed or how they affect the common good of the church and the world. We need to be ready to experience the Holy Spirit at all times, both by receiving the gifts of others and by offering our gifts to others. Listen, for the Holy Spirit always comes, and you should always be ready to respond to the call. Even if it does turn your world upside down. Or right-side up.

John W. Martens

Readings: Acts 2:1–11; Ps 104: 1–34; 2 Cor 12:3–17; Jn 15:26–27, 16:12–15

Prayer: Imagine yourself at the first Pentecost. How is the Spirit guiding you, your parish and the universal church today?

John W. Martens is an associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn. Twitter: @BibleJunkies.

[As published on the America Magazine website:]