The blowing wind is a mysterious phenomenon. It cannot be seen, but its effects are constantly around us. In the summer it can be a cooling touch on the skin, while in the winter it can slap one hard in the face. It carries the seeds that will eventually germinate into new forms of life, yet it can destroy life and property in its fury.
In the Old Testament, the words for wind, breath and spirit are often used interchangeably. It is no wonder, then, that the coming of the Spirit of God is characterized in the first reading for today as a mighty wind. The tongues of fire that rested on each of those in the house, and the miracle of tongues that occurred among the crowds gathered outside must have been spectacular. Yet there were still more phenomenal occurrences.
Those who had gathered at the sound of the mighty wind were “devout Jews.” When they heard what the disciples were proclaiming, they recognized the events of which they spoke as “the mighty acts of God.” The Spirit that transformed the disciples was now transforming these people through the words of the disciples.
In the Gospel reading, the Spirit does not come to the disciples under the guise of a mighty wind, as in the first reading. Rather, Jesus breathes on them and they receive the Spirit. Here too, it is the power of the Spirit working through them that is important. They are empowered to forgive sin and to hold back forgiveness as well. These are truly remarkable powers.
It is not uncommon to read or hear these stories read and think: “What I wouldn’t give to have been there! Such momentous events would have certainly enlivened my faith. The exercise of such remarkable powers would have surely strengthened my resolve to serve others.”
Paul assures us that we did not have to be there to receive the power of the Spirit. We have all been baptized into the body of Christ. As members of that body, we proclaim that Jesus, not Caesar or any other human power, is Lord. This is a real challenge in a world that holds up wealth and comfort, fame and power as “idols” to be worshiped. The Spirit has come to us, perhaps not through a mighty wind or the breath of the risen Lord, but through the waters of baptism and the oils of anointing. Paul was speaking of all of us when he said, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
Today’s sequence lists some of the characteristics of the Spirit: “Father of the poor...comforter...blessed light....” These holy characteristics will renew our world through us only when we work for justice for the poor, comfort those who mourn or who are in despair and bring light to those in darkness. Paul tells us, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts...different forms of service...different works.” It is for each of us to discover how the Spirit will work through us for the benefit of others.