By Sister Patricia Berliner, C.S.J.
In last week’s readings, we saw the disciples faced with probably the most frightening experience of their lives.
Having seen Jesus, the Messiah they were awaiting, crucified, they gathered together in the upper room, awaiting the day of Pentecost, maybe praying, maybe schmoozing, maybe eating or snoozing when, out of nowhere, the room was filled with a noise like a strong wind blowing through it. They were already scared enough but, after the mighty wind, came what seemed to be tongues of fire. Then, the next incredible happening… the tongues of fire came to rest on each of them, and no one was burned. To top it all off, they began to speak in different languages, and they could understand each other.
And last, but not least, at the moment you’d think they were too overwhelmed even to utter a mumble, they began to proclaim God’s message with a strength and power that, all of a sudden, began to flow naturally.
Sudden as it seemed, this change did not come from nowhere and was not without struggle. For centuries, God had been preparing, teaching, gently (and sometimes not so gently) leading the people, the “Chosen Ones,” into this moment.
At the time of the Exodus, while the Hebrews were forced to flee their homes, their lives, their personal histories, Moses cut two tablets out of stone and, following God’s call, went up alone, with the stones, to the top of Mt. Sinai, as God had commanded. But when he got there, Moses discovered that he was not alone. The Lord, having descended on a cloud, stood with Moses and proclaimed both the presence and the purpose for which Moses was chosen and to which Moses had responded.
Having believed that gods were vengeful, Moses was surprised to discover that the God of Abraham was a fair and merciful God, slow to anger, steadfast in love, faithful to the people, even when they were not faithful to Him. This was unheard of. None or few of the other gods behaved this way.
Moses bowed his head, no longer in fear, but in gratitude, with joy, humility and thanksgiving. And having received the gift of internal freedom, Moses beseeched God to walk along with the people, some, the very ones who had scoffed at, turned from, and betrayed their God, their brethren, themselves. God, who had been with them all along, hidden in plain sight, said yes and and joined them.
Hidden in Plain Sight
Seeing that Jesus had walked with them all along, hidden in plain sight, Paul began to understand that Jesus’ time was limited. In the time he had left, Jesus tried to lift their spirits and dispel their fears. But it would not be easy.
In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, Jesus, in His farewell, reminded, even exhorted, but did not demand that His followers try to mend their ways (remember how they had changed while He was among them), and, lastly, wished for them the peace that would come from the unity of the Body.
They got off to a fairly good start. They began to work together more, trust each other with somewhat less fear, give a little more benefit of the doubt, and stumbled and bumbled along the way. It is easy for us to shake our heads and wonder how they kept missing the mark, when the Lord’s injunction looked, at first glance, to be so simple…. All God asked was to love your God, love your neighbor, love yourself. For many, even now, the “love yourself” part is the stumbling block, which makes loving others harder.
As they waited in the upper room, Jesus’ fallen followers were frightened, but they were there… except for the one, Judas, who could not forgive himself enough to accept forgiveness.
Whatever happened in the upper room on that night, the disciples were filled with strength, with hope, and maybe some bravado. Whatever it was, the disciples began to change… to listen, to accept, to appreciate one another, to move their focus from themselves and to stretch the boundaries of who were those for whom they were to care.
And thus began the new generation of descendents, from the followers of the Father and of the Son and, soon, of the Holy Spirit and then, over centuries, to us.
Now, we are the apostles and disciples of the 21st century. With, in, and through Jesus, dependent on and trusting the gifts of one another, we pray for the grace to live what we have been called to proclaim, and proclaim by the witness of how we live. Go with God and be a blessing.