Today Catholic Christians celebrate the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Catholic Church in particular and Christianity in general.
Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples. Of all the stories of the New Testament, the story of the Christian Pentecost is certainly one of the most fascinating.
In the story, the disciples were in a house together. They had no idea what was to happen to them. After all, first Jesus was crucified, died, and then rose from the dead, and then he left them again by ascending into heaven.
Suddenly, a great noise came from the sky, a noise like a strong driving wind. Then, tongues as of fire parted and rested on each of them. Then, they were filled with the Holy Spirit allowing them to speak in different tongues.
At the time of this Christian Pentecost, Jews from many nations were gathered in Jerusalem. Amazingly enough, when the disciples began preaching to them, all of the peoples could understand what the disciples said, despite the fact they all spoke different languages.
Over 2,000 years have passed by since that Christian Pentecost day, but the message of the day is still with us. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7).
Paul then goes on to compare the followers of Jesus – the Church – to a body. All parts of the body have different functions, but all are important.
Unfortunately, through the ages, some Christians have come to view some gifts as inferior to others. As a result, they have come to see some people as inferior in value to others. Sociologists have found that people of all societies tend to evaluate people in terms of social value and so-called “moral worth.” For example, the life of an infant is seen as greater in social value than a 98-year old person, and the life of a heroin addict is often seen as inferior to that of an upstanding citizen.
In the following story, we see how this tendency to minimize human value was played out. I call the story, “The case of the unwanted puppy.”
There was once an 8-year old boy who saw a sign in the window of a shop that said, “Puppies for sale.” He was very excited because his parents told him that he could buy a new puppy. The boy went into the shop and looked at five little puppies that were now old enough to leave their mother. When the storeowner came from the back of the store, the little boy asked him how much the puppies cost.
The storeowner said, “Some are fifty dollars, some are more.”
The little boy reached into his pocket, pulled out all of his money, and, after counting it, said, “I only have a dollar and forty-seven cents.”
The owner replied, “Well, I’m afraid I can’t sell you one of these puppies for a dollar and forty-seven cents, little boy. You’ll have to save your money and come back next time we have puppies for sale.”
Just then, the owner’s wife came out with another puppy. It was smaller than the others and had a bad leg. It couldn’t stand very well and limped very badly.
“What’s wrong with that puppy?” asked the boy? The storeowner explained that the veterinarian had examined the puppy and said it didn’t have a hip socket. Therefore, it would always limp.
The boy said, “Oh I wish I had the money to buy that puppy! That’s the one I would choose!”
The storeowner said, “Well, that puppy is not for sale, son. But if you really want him, I’ll just give him to you. No charge.”
The little boy, instead of being happy to receive a free puppy, became quite upset. He looked at the storeowner and said, “No, I don’t want you to give him to me. That little dog is worth every bit as much as the other dogs you have for sale. I’ll give you a dollar and forty-seven now, and I’ll give you fifty cents a month until I have paid for this dog in full.”
The storeowner was perplexed. “You don’t really want to spend your money on this little dog, son. He is never going to be able to run and play with you like the other puppies.”
Then the little boy reached down and rolled up his pant leg to reveal a badly twisted left leg that was supported by a big metal brace. He looked up at the pet storeowner and said, “Mister, I don’t run and play too well myself. I figure this little puppy is going to need someone like me who understands!”
Like the little boy, God teaches us that all humans are worthy of dignity, and all have gifts to share. All of us are called to use whatever we have to benefit the whole body of Christ, which we call the Church. May we never judge others as inferior or superior on the basis of God’s gifts they have received, for God gives each of us exactly what he wants us to have – no more and no less.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Pentecost, 2017.
Story source: Anonymous. “The Man Who Played God,” in William J. Bausch (Ed.), A
World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1998, pp. 283-284.