Whowaspresent onthedayofpentecost?

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1 WITHIN THE WORD Whowaspresent onthedayofpentecost? The author invites us to meditate on the first and second chapters of the Acts of the Apostles for an answer to this question. Looking carefully at the iconography of this event. Two meetings. When the Holy Spirit came down, all were in the house together with the Apostles and Mary. For Luke, both hierarchy and base community were present on the day the Church was born. Being all gathered together again, today. Ariel Álvarez Valdés (Original text in Spanish) Mistaken paintings Pictures, paintings and prints of Pentecost tend to show the Holy Spirit descending in the form of tongues of fire on the Virgin Mary and the twelve Apostles. These images have made people believe that only these thirteen people were present on the day of Pentecost. Even when we pray the rosary, we tend to meditate, in the third glorious mystery on the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the Virgin Mary. So did only Mary and the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost? Emphatically not. This is a deplorable error: we only have to read chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles to realise this. There we are told, When Pentecost day came round, they had all met together, when suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a violent wind which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and there appeared to them tongues as of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages as the Spirit gave them power to express themselves (Acts 2: 1-4).. The ordinary meeting The account begins by saying that on the day of Pentecost they had all met together in the house. But who were these all? We can perhaps find out by turning back to chapter one, where all those who were gathered together there that day are mentioned and listed. Yet here we meet a problem: chapter one shows us two separate meetings, with two different groups taking part. First comes the regular, ordinary meeting of many Jerusalem Christians who had gathered together for prayer. The text puts it like this: In the upper room where they were staying, Pentecost as depicted by Blessed Angelico(c ). The author of the article invites us to reflect on who(and how many) were present when the Holy Spirit came down. 4

2 How Guido Reni( ) interpreted Pentecost; he included two angels. there were Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Jude son of James. With one heart all these joined constantly in prayer, together with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 1 1:3-14). The extraordinary meeting Acts goes on to tell of another meeting, this time not an ordinary one, in which a larger group of Christians had met to elect a replacement for Judas, who was dead. The paragraph says: One day Peter stood up to speak to the brothers -- there were about a hundred and twenty people in the congregation, 'Brothers,' he said, 'the passage of scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit, speaking through David, foretells the fate of Judas, who acted as guide to the men who arrested Jesus- after being one of our number and sharing our ministry. As you know, he bought a plot of land with the money he was paid for his crime. He fell headlong and burst open, and all his entrails poured out. Everybody in Jerusalem heard about it and the plot came to be called "Bloody Acre", in their language Hakeldama. Now in the Book of Psalms it says: Reduce his encampment to ruin and leave his tent unoccupied. And again: Let someone else take over his office. Out of the men who have been with us the whole time that the Lord Jesus was living with us, from the time when John was baptising until the day when he was taken up from us, one must be appointed to serve with us as a witness to his resurrection.' Having nominated two candidates, Joseph known as Barsabbas, whose surname was Justus, and Matthias, they prayed, 'Lord, you can read everyone's heart; show us therefore which of these two you have chosen to take over this ministry and apostolate, which Judas abandoned to go to his proper place.' They then drew lots for them, and as the lot fell to Matthias, he was listed as one of the twelve apostles. (Acts 1:15-26). And then follows the famous account of Pentecost, where all were gathered together. The eleven or the twelve? We now ask ourselves, which of these two groups was present at Pentecost? There are two possibilities. One possibility is that the all who are mentioned in Acts are those of the first gathering, and therefore of the ordinary meeting. If this is how it was, then those present at Pentecost would be: a) the eleven Apostles mentioned (minus Judas, who was dead); b) several women (we know from Luke s gospel that these had followed Jesus from Galilee (among 5

3 them, Mary Magdalen, Susanna, Joanna the wife of Chusa, Mary the wife of James); and c) Jesus family (that is, his mother, Mary, and his brothers). The second possibility is that all those present at Pentecost are taking part in the extraordinary meeting which elected Judas s successor. Then the list of those present would be still longer: the twelve accompanied by about 120 other people. Which of these two options should we prefer? From the Acts of the Apostles, we deduce that it is the second. The reason is that this meeting is the one that takes place immediately before the Pentecost event; whereas the meeting of the eleven is further away in the text. So, according to Acts, those who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were the twelve Apostles and the 120 brothers and sisters, not just the Apostles, as we always say, erroneously. The famous field of blood Yet it is difficult to accept that this group of the Twelve and the 120 others are those who were present at Pentecost. Why? Firstly, because according to Acts, at this meeting Peter told the 120 that Judas had bought a field in Jerusalem, that there was an accident and that he was killed; that the news had spread everywhere and that as time passed, the place became known as the field of blood. Now in order for all this to take place, time was necessary. It could not have happened before Pentecost, which took place only 50 days after the P.P. Rubens( ) interpreted Pentecostasanexplosionoflightshiningonthose who were present. Passover. Moreover, the fact that 120 persons were present suggests that the community had grown. That is, it presupposes that the Apostles had gone out to preach, and had gained new converts. Thirdly, Peter calls those present brothers. The term brothers among Christians began to be used long after Pentecost, when the Christian community had been established and formed. So this story presupposes the memory of an episode that had taken place later. Choosing in God s absence Fourthly, because at Pentecost, when the disciples went forth to preach, the people exclaimed, Are not all these Galileans? Now, if all the disciples were Galileans that day, it is easy to conclude that this is the first meeting (the eleven disciples, the women and Jesus family, who were all Galileans). Lastly, it would be strange if the meeting of the 120 to elect Judas s successor would do it just when Jesus had ascended into heaven but the Holy Spirit had not yet been given! In this interval of ten days between the ascent of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit, when they were without Jesus and without the Spirit, would the Apostles meet to elect a substitute? It is more probable that this meeting happened after Pentecost, not before as given in the Book of Acts. Showing that God does not forget Why then does St Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, place this meeting of the 120 before Pentecost? Why did he put it here, in spite of all the incongruities this presents? For the following reason: Jesus, during his public life was always accompanied by his group of twelve disciples, to show that, just as the ancient people of Israel was formed of twelve tribes, so he was now establishing a new Israel, again with twelve members. God had not forgotten the twelve tribes, neither had he allowed them to perish; he was now making them new again, giving them new life through these twelve men. The presence of the Twelve, always at the Master s side, was like a guarantee that Jesus was continuing God s ancient promises, and that that the Christian community constituted the re-creation of the ancient people of Israel. 6

4 So that Matthias would appear as soon as possible At the death of Jesus, after he had been betrayed by Judas, the Eleven who remained thought that the movement founded by the Nazarene had failed. But one day, while the Eleven were praying together with several women and relations of Jesus (that is, those who took part in the first meeting) Pentecost happened. These felt themselves invaded by a great and mighty power which filled them with impetus and energy. Animated by it, they went out in all directions to preach the Good News. After Pentecost the Eleven, seeing the community increase and intending to give it better organisation, decided to reconstitute the former group of the Twelve. So it was that they invoked the Spirit in the midst of an assembly of 120 persons, and elected Matthias as the new member of the group. Therefore Pentecost must have happened first, and the meeting of the Apostles and the 120 for the reconstitution of the group of the Twelve must have happened afterwards. Later, when Luke wrote the Book of Acts, he thought that if he told the story in this way, it would make it appear that only the Eleven Apostles had received the Holy Spirit. For him it was inadmissible that the Twelve were not present for such a fundamental event. For this reason he decided to place the election of Matthias (which happened after Pentecost) before Pentecost, so that the group of the Twelve would be complete when the Holy Spirit descended. Luke s intention, then, in the Book of Acts, was not to give an historical account of the event, but to tell his readers that the whole Church, symbolised by the group of the Twelve, was already whole and entire on the day when it received the power and light of the Spirit who founded it. The twelve again incomplete We can sum up like this: after Jesus death and resurrection, a small group of his followers remained united, persevering faithfully in community prayer. This was the small group called the ordinary meeting (Acts 1:13-14), formed by the Eleven Apostles, several women who had come from Galilee and Jesus family, with his mother and brothers. It was this group which experienced the event of Pentecost (related in Acts 2:1-4). But Luke s theological genius made him decide to relate first the extraordinary gathering of the Eleven with the 120 brothers (Acts 1:15-26). In this way, the Twelve were present for the Pentecost event. The presence of the Twelve at Pentecost was not, then, an historical presence but a theological presence; that is, it contained a religious message. Luke wants to tell us that the Christian Church, born at Pentecost, is the new people of God, heir and continuation of the ancient people of Israel, and that the whole Church rejoices in the guarantee of the Holy Spirit. This is why we see later in the Pentecost by Giotto( ) at the National Gallery in London 7

5 Book of Acts that, when the number of Apostles again became less than twelve, (by reason of other deaths), no other substitutes were elected. It was necessary for the group to be complete for Pentecost, the beginning of the Church, but not for anything else. So it is appropriate that in the pictures and paintings representing Pentecost we see the Twelve receiving the Holy Spirit, (not the Eleven as probably happened), because this means that Christian art is faithful to the theology, to the religious message. But though we depict the Twelve, we should not forget the 120 brothers who received the Spirit that day. Unfortunately these have never appeared in artistic representations. If, according to Luke, all were gathered together, how can we be ignorant of the fact that there were also the 120 brothers? If we put the Twelve into the Pentecost scene, why do we leave out the 120? This has been a great error in the Church s iconographical tradition, given that the 120 brothers, who shared the experience of Pentecost with the Twelve, represent the ordinary members of the community, what nowadays we call the base community, the simple, common people. Just as at Pentecost the hierarchy was represented by the Twelve, the base community was represented by the 120 brothers. To have excluded them from this Pentecostal experience has led many to think, erroneously, that the Church is only the hierarchy. For Luke, on the very day the Church was born, the two parts were present: the hierarchy and the base community. Maytheybeallgathered together again At Pentecost, because all were gathered together, the power of the Holy Spirit invaded the community with such force that it was given the courage to launch itself into preaching the Gospel, conquering the world, and to give life through Jesus Christ. We see today, unfortunately, that many of our communities are sadly languishing, living a life that is boring, reduced in numbers, and has hardly enough strength to survive amid the general indifference of the surrounding world. What has happened? What is happening to our communities? The answer is simple: we are not all gathered together. In many places the hierarchy and laity do not know each other; groups and movements quarrel for no good reason, institutions and pastoral workers use up their energies in quarrelling over banal questions. Perhaps this is why the Holy Spirit, who is certainly present among them, cannot work effectively. He is struggling against communities that are lazy and closed in. In order for the Spirit to return to stir things up with Pentecostal impetus, we need to be all gathered together again, without divisions or discriminations, leaving behind attitudes that are exclusive and authoritarian; we need to be open to Christ s Holy Spirit, so that he can show us what we have to do. Luke introduces the Spirit of Pentecost only when all the community is gathered together with no-one missing. There is much work to be done before this unity is realised. May the Holy Spirit again reinvigorate our communities. And may we go out, as at that first Pentecost, to give true life as witnesses of Jesus Christ. Ariel Álvarez Valdés 8

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