Thursday, June 21, 2007

A mighty wind...filled all the house (Acts 2: 2)

This verb of 'filling' (eplerosen) as applied to a 'whole house' (holon ton oikon) appears in several places in the Septuagint and the Gospels. These shed light on the reality depicted by St. Luke at Pentecost.

"And when the priests came out of the holy place that the cloud filled the house (eplese ton oikon), ...for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the LORD (eplese doxa Kyriou ton oikon)."
I Kings 8: 10-11
--the cloud of course is the manifestation of God's presence, seen during the wandering in the wilderness. In this scene, the ark of the covenant has just been placed in the new temple built by Solomon.

"The foundation of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled (oikos eneplesthe) with smoke."
Isaiah 6: 4
I have not found any commentaries on Acts that have drawn the parallel between Pentecost and Isaiah's vision, but they are striking. Not only is the house filled, but as the Cherub cleanses the lips of Isaiah and he is given commission to speak, the tongues of fire rest on the Apostles, giving them 'utterance' to announce among other things, 'the forgiveness of sins' (Acts 2: 38). The parallel of Isaiah being 'sent' is clearer in the Greek, of course, where we have God addressing His court asking, "Whom shall I send?"--in Greek, "Tina aposteilo?) Who will be my apostle? And as those to whom Isaiah is sent will not understand, because God's judgment is against them, this situation is reversed with the gift of the Holy Spirit: even those who are not God's people by the Covenant will understand, even though the Apostles only speak Aramaic.

After the destruction of the first temple, the plea of Jesus Ben Sirach significantly moves the locus of holiness from Mount Zion to the Holy People of God:
"Fill Zion with the celebration of thy wondrous deeds, and thy people with thy glory."
Sirach 36: 14
N.B. The Hebrew and Syriac versions have 'temple' for 'people'; so this move from temple to people happens in the very century before Christ. The Hebrew original was written somewhere around 100 B.C. and translated within two generations to Greek. In any case, we are making way for a new understanding of the 'house of God' being in men's hearts rather than in a building.

To keep this short, I will merely allude to the Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration, which do not mention filling a house, but do mention the presence of the Spirit. Particularly in the Transfiguration, we get the sense of the man Jesus being the new locus of God's presence by the Holy Spirit in a cloud. In both events, we hear the voice of the Father, which is possibly parallel to the 'sound from heaven' mentioned in Acts 2: 2 (see the suggestive parallel in John 12: 27-30).

Speaking of John:
"Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled (oikia eplerothe) with the fragrance of the ointment."
John 12: 3
Again, we have here the suggestion that the new 'house of God' is somehow the body of Jesus himself. Jesus mentions that this anointing is a preparation for his burialm the transition from His earthly life in a body to his glorified life in a Body eventually made up of many members.

There are plenty other places where Jesus' body is equated with the new temple of God. He draws the parallel himself in several places, and the tearing of the temple of the old curtain corresponds to Jesus' own death and entry into the Father's presence, breaking down the division between God and man once and for all.

So for Pentecost, we should see in the descent of the Holy Spirit not merely the sending of the Apostles to preach the Good News emboldened by the Creator Spirit, but we should also see this proceeding from the fact that by the forgiveness of sins and the recreation of man by the Spirit, the Apostles form the new temple, the locus of Giod's presence, the Body of Christ reconsituted on earth, a continuation of the saving act of Incarnation. Jesus' presence, from this point on, will be in the Church. Scary sometimes to think that, but this is God's plan! He knows what will be for our best!

Peace to you in Christ!

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