The Feast of Pentecost: Justice and the Gift of the Spirit

Today — the Feast of Pentecost. Today, we remember the sending of the Spirit, the gracious outpouring of God himself on his people. 

As I meditate on God’s gift of his Spirit, I think of Jesus’ words: 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Jesus begins his ministry with this proclamation, a bold claim that the Spirit has anointed him — that he is none other than the Messiah. This same Spirit who anointed Jesus, filling him with God’s power and presence for his redemptive mission, fills us now as Jesus’ body. What a glorious gift we have been given — the power and presence of God through his Spirit. What graciousness that we have not been left alone. Even now, God is here. He is not silent. He is active. He is not aloof. 

Yet, today as I meditate on Jesus’ words and the reality ushered in through Pentecost, I am pierced by the mission that Jesus claims: good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. I am pierced, because this week, another black man lies dead. I am pierced because I know it is not an isolated incident. I am pierced because the demonic sin of racism is devouring men, women, and children. 

When our black brothers and sisters live in daily fear for their lives, how do we celebrate Pentecost Sunday? What can we say about the Spirit of the Lord in a world so clearly captive to the hatred and lies of Satan?

Here’s a start — some things I have been meditating on today: 

// Pentecost isn’t just about my personal connection to God. The Spirit of God comes bestowing mission on God’s people, a mission consonant with the life and mission of Jesus. If his mission was freedom and sight, if he was called to the poor and oppressed, then so are we. We cannot say we follow Jesus and refuse to join in his mission. 

// While blindness and slavery are used in Scripture as metaphors for our condition apart from Jesus, we should be careful not to strip them of their literal meaning. Jesus healed the demon-possessed. He restored sight to the blind. Jesus healed body AND soul, and we must follow him. 

// Jesus’ reading of Isaiah ends before Isaiah’s prophecy does. The verse continues, “and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2). Jesus’ first coming was for redemption; his second coming will be for judgment. This judgment will be in the Spirit, just as salvation was. In an earlier prophesy about the Spirit-anointed ministry of Jesus, Isaiah declares: 

“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked” (11:3-4). 

When we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, we look forward to the day when all wrongs will be made right. The wicked will not get away with oppression and violence forever, even if now they pervert justice with impunity. Either they will be condemned at Christ’s judgement seat, or Jesus will take their condemnation upon himself. Either way, justice will be done. 

// Until then, we live in the in-between times. Isaiah 61:2 continues, 

“to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty 
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.”

We long for this day, when mourning, grieving, ashes, and despair will be done away with for good. But we should be careful that our focus on the triumph of the future doesn’t deny feeling the pain of today. Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ tomb, moments before he calls him back to life. Our culture too easily moves on from tragedy, too uncomfortable to sit with grief for long. But mourning is an appropriate response to injustice, and we must resist cheap joy. 

We know that while the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead has been poured out into our hearts and into the world, both are still battlegrounds of sin. In them, every sort of evil must be resisted and rooted out. Celebrating Pentecost today means that I plead with the Spirit to transform my own heart, to put to death all selfish desires and self-preserving ways of life. I plead with the Spirit to transform the world and its power structures, to continue Jesus’ mission of justice and healing. And I plead with the Spirit to equip me and give me wisdom and courage to join in that mission, to further his righteousness and justice on the earth.

These words are, I confess, woefully inadequate. Even so, I hope they will be a start, a first step in resisting silence and timidity.