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Wrestling with the Word, episode 74: Day of Pentecost, Year C (May 23, 2010) May 13, 2010

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Day of Pentecost

The human mind is a marvelous instrument. It helps us find our way in the world. It enables us to plan, to measure, to reflect, to calculate, and to take responsibility for ourselves and for others. Our minds can develop instruments to see so far out into space that we can look back in time, determine the origins of life, and calculate genetic structures. Yet, the human mind has its limits (and that is not only because of aging). Its limits are due to our inability to believe things that are beyond the scope of human reason. My mind cannot bring me to believe that God is the Creator of the universe, although I would love to figure out how God and evolutionary processes exist side by side. My mind cannot lead me to believe that the death of a Jewish man on a cross about the year A.D. 29 could accomplish God’s forgiveness of sin for the whole world. Nor will my mind enable me to grasp that the same person was raised from the dead only a couple of days later. It is no wonder that the church celebrates the Day of Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit, for this gift enables us to believe what our minds cannot comprehend.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 74: Day of Pentecost, Year C.


Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
The psalm is a hymn of praise to God the Creator. It bears striking similarities both to the Egyptian “Hymn to the Sun God” and to Genesis 1. All three have in common the belief that each phenomenon of nature exists to fulfill a particular function. Further, like Genesis 1, the sea and its creatures (even Leviathan here) do not represent chaos but playful things in which God delights. Our verses summarize the preceding material with the confession that “in wisdom” (v. 24) and with divine “spirit” or “breath” (v. 30), God not only creates everything but sustains all creation with appropriate nourishment. For all these wonders, the psalmist offers praise with song, music, and poetic meditation (vss. 33-34).


Genesis 11:1-9
Against humanity’s attempts to play God, the Lord exercises royal authority by turning their plans against them and separating them from one another.

The story concludes the history of the brokenness of humanity which began in Genesis 3.  One story after another depicts humanity’s attempts to “be like God” – to use the serpent’s words. Each attempt results in humanity’s alienation from God and from one another.

Key Words
V. 2. biq‘â be’erets šin‘ar wayyēšebû šām = “a plain in the land of Shinar and dwelt there”: The word Shinar seems to describe an area that comprised the ancient land of Sumer and the land that later became Babylonia. The term appears in the OT also at Gen. 14:1, 9; Isa. 11:11; Dan. 1:2, and Zech. 5:11—all apparently as a name for the area that later generations knew as Babylon.

V. 4.  ‘îr ûmigdāl werōšô baššāmayim = “a city and a tower and its top in the heavens”:  In ancient Babylon the temple abode for the gods Marduk, Enlil, and Ea was called E.SAG.ILA = “house of the lofty top.”  The tower in the complex was called E.TEMEN. AN.KI = “House of the Bond of Heaven and Earth.”

V. 4.  wena‘aseh-llānû šēm = “and let us make a name for ourselves”:  To understand the expression as a claim to fame, see ’anšê haššēm = “men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). The problem is that humanity is created to acclaim the name of God as great (see Psalm 76:1; 86:12; 92:1; 96:4, 8; 99:2-3). In order for humans to have a “great name” requires the gift and blessing of God; see Gen. 12:2; waagaddelâ šemekâ = “and I will make your name great” (cf. 2 Sam. 7:9).

V. 7.  nēre wenābelâ šām sephātām = “let us go down and confuse there their language [lip]”:  For Yahweh’s heavenly court as a possible addressee here, see 1 Kings 22:19-23; Isa. 6:1ff.; Job 1; Ps. 81; 89, etc.  Note the word for “confuse” (nābelâ) derives from the root bll and not from bbl from which Babel comes.

V. 9.  ‘al-kēn qārā’ šemāh bābel = “one called its name Babel”:  In the Babylonian language bab-ilāni or bab-ilî means “the gate of the gods.”  Cf. Gen. 28:18 where at Beth-el (House of God) Jacob declares he is at ša‘ar haššāmayim = “the gate of heaven.”


Acts 2:1-21
God confirms the prophetic promise of a New Day by sending the Holy Spirit to inspire a universal audience to speak/hear the word of God in his/her own language so that the community of the new time might be realized.

After the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives, the disciples, about 120 in number, gathered in Jerusalem to choose a twelfth apostle to take the place of Judas.  The lot fell on Matthias.  Still in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles experienced the birth-day of the church. The excitement of the scene should not detract the reader from Peter’s explanation of the event and his sermon that follows our pericope.

Key Words
V. 1.  “the day of Pentecost”:  The festival was known in the OT period as “the feast of the harvest of the first fruits” (Exod.23:16), “the feast of weeks, the first fruits of the wheat harvest” (Exod. 34:22; Deut. 16:9-12), “the day of the first fruits” (Num. 28:26).  It was one of three festivals each year when all the males of Israel were to appear at the Jerusalem temple.

V. 2.  pnoē = “wind”:  One would expect pneuma here for “wind”; This term appears in NT elsewhere only at Acts 17:25 for “breath.”

V. 3.  glōssai hōsei pyros = “tongues as fire”:  For the connection of the Holy Spirit and fire, see Matt. 3:11 (//Luke 3:16); for fire as a visible manifestations of God (see Exod. 3:2; 19:18; Isa. 31:9). Perhaps more important, the final chapter of Isaiah prophesies an eschatological theophany in terms of fire, storm-wind, flames of fire; it goes on to describe God’s gathering of “all nations and tongues” and the divine promise that “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (Isa. 66:15-23)

V. 17-21. The words are Joel 2:28-29 with additions.  In v. 17 ev tais eschatais hēmerais = “in the last days” recalls Isa. 2:2 to refer to the New Day. The Lord’s promise to “pour out my spirit on all flesh” has taken audible and visible form in the scene that has just occurred, and the universality of that prophecy in Joel becomes the critical issue for the author of Luke-Acts through the interpretation and sermon of Peter.  In v. 18 the final words kai prophēteusousin = “and they shall prophesy” reflect the thought of Num. 11:29 where Moses desires that “all the Lord’s people were prophets.”


John 14:8-17 (25-27)
In response to Philip’s request that Jesus show the disciples the Father, Jesus indicates that he and the Father are one and that when he goes away, he will pray that the Father send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who will teach them all things and bring to remembrance all that Jesus had told them.

After Judas had left the room of the final supper, Jesus began the Last Discourse (13:31).  He said that by loving one another, others will know they are his disciples (13:31-35).  Peter offered to lay down his life that he might go with Jesus, but Jesus predicts Peter will deny him three times (13:36-38).  Jesus then promises to prepare a place for his disciples in his Father’s house (14:1-6).

Key Words
V. 9. kai ouk egnōkas me = “and you do not know me”: The verb “know” should probably be understood in the OT sense of “know” where it means not intellectual awareness of a personal relationship. See Jer. 31:34; Hos. 6:6; Amos 3:2. At John 1:10, the world does not “know” the light that has come into the world. At John 10:38, Jesus connects “knowing” the relationship between the Father and the Son on the basis of the works that Jesus performs, just as in the following two verses here.

Vss. 10, 11. “I am in the Father and the Father in me”: The identity of God the Father and God the Son is attested throughout John’s Gospel, including Jesus’ claim to the divine title I AM. The same theme appears in Matt. 11:27//Luke 10:22.

Vv. 15, 21.  “my commandments”:  Whatever commandments Jesus intends, the saying is similar to 15:10 where the commandments involve “abiding in love.” When Jesus teaches the “new commandments” at 15:12, he focuses exclusively on a specific kind of love: “that you love one another, as I have loved you.”

V. 16.  allon paraklēton dōsei hymin = “he will give you another Paraclete/Advocate/Counselor/Helper”:  While this is the first occurrence in John’s Gospel, the term appears as the title/function for the Holy Spirit also at 14:26 (see note on v. 26); 15:26 (function of bearing witness to Jesus); and 16:7 (function of convincing the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment).

V. 17.  ho ho kosmos ou dynatai labein, hoti ou theōrei auto oude ginōskei = “whom the world is not able to receive, because it neither sees nor knows him”:  cf. 1:10:  “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him,” referring to the Word/Wisdom.  Although the world does not know and see the person of God, God loves the world (3:16), and Jesus prays that the world might believe that God sent him (17:20-26).

V. 26. ekeinos hymas didaxei panta kai hypomnēsei hymas ha eipon hymin egō = “that one will teach you many things and remind you of the things I said to you”: The teaching function of the Spirit recalls that of Wisdom in the traditions of the OT (see Prov. 8:1ff.; 9:1-6; and the seven “wisdom”gifts of the spirit at Isa. 11:2-3). As for the reminder of things Jesus had said to the disciples, note John 2:22 on the resurrection.