This post is part of the June Synchroblog: Faith, Feasts and Foreshadowing in which we were invited to reflect on Shavuot and Pentecost and what we might learn from the similarities or differences in the two religious feasts. I will post the links of all the participants at the end of this post when they are available. To learn more about the synchroblog please visit the Synchroblog site.
The Spirit is like the wind. The wind often arises unexpectedly, and blows with such force that everything in its path is toppled over and displaced. If we are honest, this is the challenging aspect of this metaphor concerning the Spirit. We cannot capture the wind. In this way, Pentecost serves as a reminder that the Spirit blows through all of our categories and continues to do the unexpected. We may think we have grasped the wind, only to find that it has blown in a different direction. In the face of such a wonderful mystery, we can either shield ourselves from its power, or revel in the wind that eludes our grasp. – Margaret Manning
This month Jews and Christians will each celebrate a spring festival. Jews will celebrate Shavuot on June 8 and Christians will celebrate Pentecost on June 12. The two spring festivals have some remarkable similarities:
Shavuot is 50 days after Passover. Pentecost is 50 days after the resurrection.
Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah at Mt.Sinai. Pentecost marks the giving of the Holy Spirit.
At Shavuot the law of Yahweh was written on stone. At Pentecost the law of Yahweh was written on hearts.
During Shavuot about 3,000 were slain. During Pentecost about 3,000 received salvation.
Shavuot represents the founding day of Judaism. Pentecost represents the founding day of the Christian church.
During Shavuot the spirit of God descends in a fiery cloud. During Pentecost the spirit of God descends as tongues of fire.
In both stories, the divine word comes down from heaven and is spoken to God’s people.
However, there is one distinct difference between Shavuot and Pentecost that I find particularly interesting and insightful.
According to the book of Acts Jesus’ disciples were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they begin “to speak in other tongues as the spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4b) As this happened a diverse crowd gathered and was amazed that each one heard what was being said in their own language. The sign that they were surely hearing from God lay in the miracle that each one heard the same message but in the language they needed to hear it in.
In contrast, the event at Mt.Sinai is described by Rabbis as each person receiving the teaching that he or she most needed to hear. An older person would have heard something different than a younger person. A sick person would have received a lesson that was different from the one a healthy person received. A child would have heard what he or she needed to hear. A person with much would not hear the same thing as a person who had little. Men and women would have heard according to their own needs. The content of God’s message was different depending upon who was receiving it. The sign that they were surely hearing the voice of God was not that one message went out to all, but that each person heard what they needed to hear. In other words, an infinite God spoke in infinite ways and what he said depended upon who he was speaking to.
Although I don’t believe that these two experiences “have” to be pitted against one another; I do find it interesting that most Christians today will insist that there is only one correct interpretation of scripture (what that interpretation is depends on the Christian you are speaking with) while the Judaic tradition still believes that there are many different interpretations of the Torah and that people typically “hear” the lessons they most need in their life.
An infinite God who speaks in infinite ways and what he says depends on who he is speaking to … that is what God sounds like to me. But many Christians would find the idea that there are numerous interpretations of scripture to be dangerous. They would worry that someone would abuse the scriptures if we took that approach. (As if the abuse doesn’t already take place as people have used scripture to justify slavery and war, the oppression of women, racism and the unjust treatment of LGBT people)! They insist that God must sound the same to everyone, everytime. IMO that is making God much smaller than he is – that is like trying to “capture the wind.”
Be sure and check out the other synchroblog posts:
Kerri at Earth’s Crammed With Heaven… – Transformation
Sarita Brown at Gypsy Queen Journals – Pentecost: A Poem
Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – The Incarnation of the Temple, Torah, and Land
Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Random Biblical Calendar Thoughts, Unity & Love
K. W. Leslie at More Christ – Pentecost
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – We Cannot Capture The Wind
Emma Nadine at Life by List – An Outpouring of the Spirit
Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms – Shadow of Things to Come?
Abbie Waters at No Longer “Not Your Grandfather’s CPA” – Spiritual Gifts
Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – A “Wild Goose” Festival at Pentecost
Kathy Escobar at kathy escobar. – more than the leftovers
John O’Keefe at john c. o’keefe – What’s With This