A “…strong driving wind…tongues as of fire,” – this is what descends upon the apostles and disciples gathered together. Are we surprised that they are confused, astounded, amazed, skeptical, believing, and disbelieving – all at once? In a certain way, they were simply more confused, amazed, etc. because they were already together experiencing bewilderment over how to move forward with the mission given them by Jesus when the Holy Spirit flows among them and shakes things up even more.
In John’s gospel, the Holy Spirit is not called as such, but rather Paraclete, which is sometimes translated as “Comforter.” We want the Holy Spirit as Comforter to ease our distress, encourage us, and to come to us in times of trouble to remind us of Jesus’ presence and promises. It is certainly the comfort the apostles needed, as they were distressed, and feeling orphaned and abandoned at Jesus’ death, Resurrection, and Ascension.
But come Pentecost, there is nothing too comforting in the description of driving wind and tongues as of fire. In these familiar Pentecost texts, the Holy Spirit isn’t comforting anyone or anything but instead is shaking things up. The Holy Spirit calls the apostles to go out there and testify – of course it was Jesus’ testimony to the truth that got Him into trouble. The Holy Spirit is hardly comforting, but rather empowering them to make the same disturbing, disruptive, and world-changing testimony that called into question the values of the world. The Holy Spirit is as much agitator as advocate, as much provocateur as comforter. What word captures all this? Well… it’s Paraclete – a compound Greek work that literally means, “to come alongside another.”
If one continues to read the Acts of the Apostles, the Paraclete comes alongside the apostles to push them from the Upper Room into the Temple area, then into Jerusalem, to Samaria, to the coastal cities, and eventually to the ends of the earth. It was the Paraclete that came alongside them to ask if they would have an open heart and push out into deep waters in order to reach new shores.
And how about us? Are willing to the let the Spirit of God come alongside us and shakes things up? The demand of Pentecost is that we listen with a willing heart, and that we open ourselves to journey beyond our comfort zone. The Paraclete does not come to baptize the status quo, but to call us into a dynamic relationship with the God who always makes things new.
Here on Pentecost Sunday, a good question to consider is what has changed (or is changing) since the beginning of Lent? Since Easter Sunday? How deep is the water beneath you? Where is your upper room? Your Temple area? Your Jerusalem? Your ends of the earth? Or perhaps we are too comfortable.
As St. Paul writes, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Not for comfort, but to shake things up. What will you shake up in your life?