Solemnity of Pentecost 2019: Sharing New Insight – Prof. Teresa Okure SHCJ

Beloved brother, sister,
Greetings on this Solemnity of Pentecost, the event of God’s baptism of the earth with transforming and all barrier breaking fire as today’s readings (Act 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7. 12-13) and Peter’s interpretation of this “mighty works of God” (Acts 2: 14-36) with its sequel (vv 37-41) inform us. The priest mistakenly used the readings of Year A instead of Year C.

Yesterday (Saturday, Eve of Pentecost) in the course of a conversation on the evil of cultism, tribalism and nationalism rampant in our society today, my conversation partner, one of those we call “ordinary people” (not a cleric, pastor, religious or scholar of any type), said to me:

  • Sister do you know that tribalism is the worst type of cultism? And many of us are in that cultist group.
  • Really, what do you mean?
  • Yes, Sister. Tribalism operates like cultism. Check it out. Cultists form a covenant gang; they promote and protect those in their group. If there is an opening in business, in an office, in government or civil service, they make sure people from their cult group get it. They fight against members of other cult groups; even to the extent of killing those who oppose or hurt them. They see no good in others, only in members of their cult group. Isn’t that what is happening in the church today? Check it out, Sister. Tribalism rules our church, including the clergy, pious societies and such organisations as the CMO, CWO, CYON, the Knights and religious congregations. If you do not belong to the tribe of the ruling group, or the majority in these associations, God help you. You will just be treated as appendix, if not as a slave or totally ignored, etc. etc. You are there, but they will speak in their language and exclude you or expect you to know the language. It is bad, Sister.
  • Hmmmm! I think you are right.
  • Yes Sister, check it out; tribalism [we add “nationalism and geographical location”] is the worst type of cultism on earth; cultists at least operate in secret; but tribalistic people operates in public, even from the pulpit, in God’s name. Check it out, Sister! You find it even in families! They form associations within the church and celebrate their cult groups in public. God have mercy on us, on our church and our country Nigeria [we add “on our world”]. That is one big reason we are not developing and progressing. People club together, plot together to destroy and scatter others. Mind you, Sister, different real cultic groups also exist in the church.

The conversation continued with concrete examples. That wisdom from “an ordinary person” and my reflecting on it or “checking it out” was the grace that helped me to hear and see something new or differently in today’s readings. The readings again were Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7. 12-13 and John 20:19-23, for Pentecost Sunday Year A instead of Year C.  Maybe the priest’s mistake was providential! Please permit me to share with you the excitement of what I discovered or heard, as my way of saying Happy Solemnity of Pentecost 2019. In what follows, I make no effort to systematize or analyse what I heard. This is not an article, simply a sharing of insight as they came. I always write down my inspirations whenever possible as I listen to God’s word.

Insights from Acts 2:1-11. What struck me was that God is the one at work in the Pentecost event, fulfilling the promise to renew the face of the earth, moulding all peoples (“every nation under heaven”) into one family, across national barriers and social boundaries (including domestic staff), as Peter interprets the event, backed by the prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:14-36; Joel 3:1-5). The Holy Spirit brought together from their secluded private dwellings peoples “from all nations under heaven” and Jesus’ disciples, the “elect ones”, from their locked up Upper Room. United in faith after listening to what God had done, was doing and was going to do for humanity, they formed one community with an additional “three thousand added to their number” that very day (2:41); they lived as one caring family built on faith and rooted in faith, in prayer, in God’s word and the Eucharist (the breaking of the bread), the bond of unity (2:41-47).

This is not entirely new. But the symbols of fire and wind that marked the event struck me forcefully in a new way. Fire and wind have no boundaries; they respect no boundaries; they do not discriminate; they burn, blow freely and blow off or consume everything in their path. Boundaries do not exist in their vocabulary or nature. They have no cultic tendencies. If fire catches one house or plot of land, estate or huge area (as in the wild fires of California or Australia or the Glendfield Towers) or the different hurricanes in the world, all houses and property they touch are destroyed, equally. They spread wildly, freely. Fire fighters battle helplessly to put out raging fires. Rich and poor evacuate their homes to escape the onslaught of the uncontrollable hurricane or the wild fire and their devastating effect.

Fire and wind as images of the Spirit remind us that the Holy Spirit cannot be controlled, manipulated, possessed, blocked, impoverished, tribalised or nationalised. Jesus alludes to this in John 3:5-8, when speaking of the absolute necessity of being born of God “by water and wind/the Holy Spirit”, a birth which excludes no one, which only requires one thing from all: faith, believing (John 3:15-16; 6:29). As fire and wind do to what they touch, the Holy Spirit moves us to transcend all our human-made barriers and boundaries, especially those of tribalism and racism. If we want a world of peace (a w/holistic world), God’s world peopled by humans whom God created in “God’s image and likeness” (Gen 1:26-27; 5:1-2, etc) and found to be “very good” (Gen 1:31), if we want peace in our families, church, institutions – educational and otherwise – nations, we need to God’s Spirit to blow in us and through us and reset our mindsets, thoughts, deeds and vision with that of God.

 Unity, one, oneness (1 Cor 12:3-7. 12-13)

“Every nation under heaven”, Jews and Gentiles (we add our own categories), became one believing family; crossing and transcending the greatest human barrier of racism (involving men and women, children and youth) and election-ism. The reading from 1 Corinthians 12 consolidates this: The Spirit is one, and only one; the body is one and only one; God who works in all peoples giving them different gifts for the good of the body is one and only one. Can we be moved by God’s Spirit yet practice tribalism, promote tribalism and nationalism? What spirit moves in us, drives us on: God’s Spirit; or the evil and unclean spirit of tribalism, nationalism, dividing, scattering and destroying whatever is not “our own”, “of our group” “by our group”? Is it possible for God’s Spirit to be divisive against itself or refuse to recognize and praise the good in others, God’s gift to them and work in them? Unthinkable, since “one and the same Spirit is working in them”, gifting each as the Spirit thinks fit for the good of the whole, not of the clan, the club, the cultic group or the self.

The Spirit and the body are single entities. Unmarried people are called single people, looking for life partners. The same Spirit, the same God is working in everybody. We show contempt to the Spirit when we despise others or the good in them and try to discredit and destroy them simply because “they are not one of us”, not for the interests of our cultic group or the self in the cultic group. God’s Spirit cannot be at war with itself. No sane person is at war with him/herself; individually we are parts of Christ’s body and together we form one body in him. Do we believe this? Then why are we at war with one another? Forming divisive cultic groups and cliques in that body?

These are wild random thoughts on the gift of the Spirit as powerful wind and tongues of fire. Please brother, sister, “Check it out”; help others around you to check it out. Pentecost ends the Easter season; it opens us to the long season of learning to cross boundaries, personal boundaries, tribal and elect-ism boundaries, cultic tribal and national boundaries, boundaries of gender, etc., as we see in the great missionary movements in the Acts of the Apostles that followed Pentecost.

The early Christians dropped their pejorative names or tags for those not of their cultic group: Jews/Gentiles, Circumcised/Uncircumcised, Barbarians and Scythians/Greeks or Civilised.  Instead they called each other by their new Spirit-given names: brother, sister, followers of the way, Christians (those who are configured to Christ or have put on Christ at baptism; the strove to live like Christ and encouraged one another to live like Christ). Jesus said, “The Father and I are one”. “The works I do, the words I speak, the Father who does them all in me”. Even the followers I have are the Father’s gifts to me to look after and ensure that none is lost; not to exploit and abuse in all kinds of ways; discriminate against or reject. They all belong to the Father; they all belong to me. I am the Good/Beautiful Shepherd. The Holy Spirit takes of what is mine and gives to you to share and celebrate in my name and thereby find and enjoy life in ever greater abundance. Be enriched by the Spirit’s gifts to others.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of us your faithful; renew the lives and minds of us God’s children. Please move us out of our cultic tribalistic and nationalistic ghettos, our self destructive and impoverishing ghettos, to enjoy the freedom and liberty of God’s children through sharing and celebrating you and your gifts in others, no matter who they are, where they come from, no matter their colour or status in life. Move us to run with zeal to share the same good news with others to the ends of the earth and till the end of time. Amen.

Happy and Renewed Pentecost 2019!

Sr. Teresa Okure, SHCJ