Originally posted in June of 2011. Reposted for new readers and for the solemnity of Pentecost.
The first Pentecost Sunday, immediately following the Ascension of Our Lord, is when God gave back his Holy Spirit to mankind. You might wonder: when did he take it away?
Believe it or not, the Spirit of God had been missing in action- at least as we come to know it -for hundreds of years prior to the first-century.
In Genesis 6, just prior to the Flood, the Godly descendants of Seth- Seth being the righteous son of Adam and Eve -married into the ungodly race of Cain. The implication of course was that the descendants of Seth no longer valued the true Faith that was handed down to them. After all, they married into an irreligious people; a cursed race.
In response, God withdrew his Spirit. In fact, he said, “My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh.” In a word, God said “I’m out here! I am no longer wanted!”
In the absence of God’s Spirit, the rules of life changed dramatically. Immediately after the Flood in Genesis chapter 9, God spelled out these “new” rules:
-He said that dread and fear would come over the animals; they would now be afraid of man.
-Second, man would go from eating plants to eating animal meat. The harmony between man and the animal kingdom would therefore be disrupted.
-Third, God will now demand a strict accounting from man. For instance, if he kills another human being; he himself shall be killed (Genesis 9:6). An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will be the measure by which people are measured.
To be sure, from Genesis 9 to Pentecost Sunday an exacting justice will mark God’s dealings with man. Since “man is but flesh” and no longer concerned about the things of the Spirit, he will be judged by God accordingly.
Perhaps this is why God is perceived as being harsh in the Old Testament. Because of man’s rejection of him, God withdrew his Spirit and scaled back his mercy. The unfortunate side effect was that human nature was coarsened. Indeed, man’s heart was hardened. Polygamy, superstition, and human cruelty were universal. And even with his own people, the Lord tolerated (but not endorsed) the polygamous practices of Abraham, Jacob and King David.
But that all changed when, through Christ, God gave back his Holy Spirit. If you read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5-7, you will see that Jesus is not lowering but raising the moral standards.
For instance, he said that not only is adultery was wrong but even lusting after a woman was a serious sin; not only killing is wrong but even being unjustly angry at your neighbor is a moral evil.
Notice that the new law of Christ is not content in condemning bad behavior. Rather, it strikes at the root of the problem by addressing the heart of man, the inner sanctuary where his thoughts originate.
However, to his listeners, the new law that Jesus spells out seemed demanding; if not impossible. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, observing the new law would not only be possible, it would also be the conditions for a new and abundant life.