Reflection on Pentecost Sunday 2023 CE
Luke wrote the dramatic story of the birth of the Church. Condensing the story, we have disciples in a room together after Jesus’ Ascension where they selected Matthias to replace Judas. Then on the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after Passover, they were again all together. The Holy Spirit inspired them and they began to speak in every language. A crowd gathered and was amazed, and Peter gave a speech to the crowd and many came to believe. The believers then formed a primitive community with all things held in common. Luke wrote this story in the years between 85-95 CE, and is the only writer to tell us how it happened. He wrote both from “investigation and imagination” (NRSV Notes). Luke wasn’t there so what can we really know or reasonably imagine?
Luke clearly intends to tell it like it happened, as best as he can. However, we know from Luke’s style that he uses speeches to make Luke points (NRSV Notes) so Peter’s speech is a literary creation. Peter put a guilt trip on the crowd, which is a step away from “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23-34) Maybe Luke had his reasons, but who else may have spoken up on this dramatic occasion? Luke tells us that 120 people, including women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brother were in the upper room, and that they all came back on Pentecost when they all began to speak in every language. What might the other 119 have said? Luke tells us that these people were witnesses. There were 120 witnesses who experienced Jesus, up close and personal. They were his family and his friends. How wonderful it would be if we knew what they all had to say. Let’s pretend we are Luke and use our imagination.
Jesus had called them all to be his witnesses, they all were given the power of the Holy Spirit to speak boldly – in public – to a crowd of people, all of them, each with their own personal experience of Jesus. Let’s use our imagination. An elderly widow spoke up and said, “I was sick and afraid that no one would be able to take care of me, and Jesus told me, ‘Don’t be afraid. My friends will take care of you,’ and they do. I have a new life because of Jesus.” A young person started telling their story, “They thought I had died, and I thought maybe they were right, but Jesus said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Get up and have something to eat,’ and here I am good as new.” A woman said, “I was on the street and Jesus and his friends took me in. I don’t have to sell my body any more, or be afraid someone will kill me for being sinful.” James, Jesus’ brother added, “He was my big brother. He took risks that I would have been afraid to take. He was my hero. I followed him everywhere. He taught me not to be afraid.”
Let us continue to use our imagination. Luke does not specifically mention Mary of Magdala as being among the 120, but as one of Jesus’ closest friends, we can be sure she was there. So we have Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary of Magdala, who was never a prostitute, together. What would they have said to the crowd? Close your eyes and imagine. What would they say? Luke did it, so can you. You really can imagine what Mary of Magdala and Mary would have said to the crowd. Yes, you can. Jesus told his friends over and over. “Don’t be afraid,” or the positive equivalent, “Peace be with you.” Mary and Mary of Magdala would not have been afraid to tell their stories. Women tell stories to great effect. It’s what they do. This 2023 CE Pentecost is an opportunity to imagine the stories that the two most important women in Jesus’ life told the crowd. The Holy Spirit will provide the inspiration. You may not have a crowd in the street, although it still happens, but you have the cloud. You can be the voices that Luke left out.
Peace be with you,