Homily – Pentecost(Fr. Smith)

The first movie I remember seeing was Cecil B DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments”. I believe I was in the 2nd grade and the whole school was marched over to a local movie theater to watch it. Itmade a very powerful impression on me, and I remember scenes to this very day. 

DeMille of course was known for spectacles that went over the top. Since then, I have studied the Hebrew Bible and the customs of the ancient mid-east. I have learned much, such as camels were not domesticated at the presumptive time of the exodus despite the movie and there would have been no more than a few thousand Hebrews in Egypt during their captivity not the multitudes that Mr DeMille assembled.

Yet when I watched the movie again a few years ago I was amazed at how well it told the story. God performed great miracles from the death of the first born in Egypt to the parting of the red sea and the destruction of the Pharoah’s army.

Yet after a few weeks, the Jews became divided, and some wishedto repudiate the God of their fathers and return to Egypt. Perplexed Moses went up to Mt Sinai and God gave him 10 commandments to guide them. But while he was gone the people made their own god, a cow of gold. The scene between Moses (Charlton Heston) and Dathan (Edward G Robinson) over who was to lead the people was also spectacular and with predictable results.


Yet miracles no matter how powerful are not enough, the reality ofGod must become part of the inner life of both the community and its individual members, otherwise it will be forgotten or even denied. The great insight of the Jewish people was that how one behaved was connected to what and how one believed, and that godly behavior made God a part of them. God gave the people the 10 commandments as a way of life that went beyond the rule of law. It kept them from killing each other but also connected them to himself. Injustice and lawlessness will inevitably create divisionsamong people, but such immorality also severs our relationship with God. This is not best communicated by subtlety but by bright colors on a large screen. 

It is said that this movie was what God could have done if he had the budget, but scripture speaks as majestically:

On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled Ex 19:16).

Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, for the LORD came down upon it in fire. The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.The trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking and God answering him with thunder. (Ex 19:18–19).

St Luke, the author of our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, was obviously aware of this passage. He employed it very effectively. More importantly, he was aware of the reason for it and had seen the same behavior in the apostles. They had witnessed the many miracles of Jesus yet when he was arrested, they ran. They had been with Jesus for 40 days after his resurrection, the greatest miracle of all yet Jesus knew that they would forget again and run at the first sign of danger. Therefore, at the Ascension when he returned to the Father, he told them to stay in Jerusalem “until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49)

Accepting the 10 commandments and the way of life that it requiredformed a covenant with God and affirmed a deep relationship with him and with the entire community. The death and resurrection of Jesus offers us a covenant with God that is even deeper. We are bound by the spirit who hovered over the very creation of the world(Gen 1:2) and was present at Jesus’ Baptism (Lk 3:22). This is re-creation, God entered the life of his community in a new and most intimate way.

Luke will show the consequences in the next section of this reading. There were Jews from the entire world present in Jerusalem. “At this sound they gathered in a large crowd”. They knew their scriptures and recognized that this was from God but did not know its meaning. The apostles spoke and each understood in their own language. We must remember that the Jewish kingdom was dividedfor centuries with 10 of the 12 tribes sent into exile. One of the tasksof the Messiah was to bring them back together as one people. This the apostles did in the name of Jesus, but Jesus breaks allboundaries, and they will bring the good news to the whole world. 

The coming of the Holy Spirit is so important that no one versioncan tell us everything. Luke today is paired with John. Luke spreads out the events of Jesus’ own Exodus from his death to outpouring of the spirit 50 days later. John expresses the unity of all and as we see today breathes the spirit on the apostles on Easter night.  He also forgives them and gives them the power to forgive others. Both Luke and John recognize that with the Spirit Jesus has formed the church. Luke emphasizes her width: she must go into the world and bring all people together. Without the spirit, we will lose both courage and direction.

John emphasizes her depth: the good news of Jesus is that we are freed from our sins beginning here and now. No other organization in the world can do that and without the spirit we will forget this as well and become an NGO, with great intentions but no special reason to exist.

Our reason to exist is that we have the Spirit or perhaps moreaccurately that Spirit has us. We celebrate today that we are not his trophies, but his instruments and we prove our value only when we are used.