Readings for Pentecost Sunday: ACTS 5: 2-11; PS 104: 1, 24, 29-31, 34; 1COR 12: 3B-7, 12-13; JN 20: 19-23.
So who do you think is more outspoken, Donald Trump or Pope Francis? Which one should followers of Jesus listen to?
That question was sharpened a few weeks ago, when Pope Francis implied that Donald Trump is not a Christian. Responding to a reporter’s question, the pontiff lit up the internet when he said about Trump, “Anyone, whoever he is, who only wants to build walls and not bridges is not a Christian.” Francis added, “Vote, don’t vote, I won’t meddle. But I simply say, if he says those things, this man is not a Christian.”
The pope’s comment came at the end of Francis’ six-day trip to Mexico. There he celebrated Mass with 300,000 faithful in attendance near the Mexican-U.S. border. He used the occasion to decry the “human tragedy” of worldwide migrations of people fleeing violence, war and the effects of climate change. The pope’s analysis, of course, conflicts with Mr. Trump’s who sees immigrants as rapists, drug-dealers, and terrorists.
Francis’ comments drew a quick response from The Donald. He called the pope’s charges outrageous and accused him of being a pawn of the Mexican government.
While Francis’ words were surprising and the response predictable, both provide occasion for a Pentecost reflection on what it means to be a baptized and confirmed Christian in a world awash with refugees from U.S. bombings and the effects of neo-liberal overconsumption.
That’s because the emphasis in today’s readings is precisely on internationalism. The Kingdom of God, the readings tell us, has no borders. It is open to everyone regardless of nationality, race, occupation or gender. Moreover, the Kingdom of God is a matter of this world – of the Body of Christ. It is not about some disembodied reality up in the sky.
That twofold message starts with today’s opening reading from the Acts of the Apostles with all those strange identity references that readers usually stumble over. Jews, we are told who were present on that first Pentecost were “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs.”
Then in today’s second reading, Paul goes even further. God’s Kingdom, he says, isn’t just for Jews. In fact in God’s eyes national distinctions, economic status, and gender identity have been erased for those who accept the Gift of God’s Spirit. Paul writes: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” Elsewhere (Galatians 3:28) he puts it even more directly: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s message was a consistent theme in the life of Jesus. He healed and forgave, loved and taught Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, street walkers, lepers, tax collectors, and even on occasion members of the Roman occupying forces.
Notice too Paul’s words about “body” insert the reception of Jesus’ Spirit into the earthly realm of real life and politics. True, Paul speaks of “spiritual gifts,” but he even more emphatically insists that those gifts must be “manifest” in “service” meant to “benefit” others. We are members of Christ’s “Body,” Paul tells us. That is, we are all somehow living “in Christ” – in God, we might say. The question is, do we recognize that reality or not?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us more specifically where in the world we encounter his embodied spirit. It happens first of all in the community of peacemakers. Jesus’ first words after his resurrection are about peace. “Peace be with you,” he says. Then he immediately shows his pierced hands and side to his friends. In doing so he seems to remind his followers that he will forever be found in the victims of war and imperialism. That includes refugees from imperialist wars and excess consumption as well as in victims of torture and capital punishment like Jesus himself.
Is such understanding of Pentecost too political? Donald Trump might think so. Pope Francis does not. Francis himself has pointed out that Aristotle was correct in saying that human beings are political animals. So to be branded “political” is to have one’s humanity recognized. The pope said he is proud to be branded political.
So would-be followers of Jesus are presented with a choice on this particular Pentecost. Are we to follow Pope Francis or Donald Trump? The choice is ours.
More accurately, do we recognize that we are living not “in America,” but “in Christ?” Do we recognize (as John Oxenham put it more than 100 years ago) that
1 In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.
2 In Christ shall true hearts everywhere
their high communion find;
his service is the golden cord
3 Join hands, disciples of the faith,
whate’er your race may be.
All children of the living God
are surely kin to me.