Pentecost, Year A | John 7:37-39
The FirstFruits of Pentecost
In the Old Testament, Pentecost was celebrated in thanksgiving for the firstfruits harvest of wheat. By offering a portion of the bounty at the beginning of the harvest to God, the Israelites trusted their sacrifice would be not only replaced but also multiplied. The harvest was still an unknown; the firstfruits might be the only fruits. But, the celebration reminded them that a fear of not having enough kept them from recognizing God’s grace in their lives.
Fast forward to the cusp of the New Testament. God is prepared to sacrifice His beloved Son. In return, He will multiply that sacrifice by sending the Holy Spirit to enable all of Jesus’s followers to continue, and multiply, His works. The kicker is that Jesus has to be game to be the sacrifice. He has to go through with it, when, by all human figuring, it doesn’t make sense.
The night before His death, Jesus must have rationalized with God ten thousand ways. “Father, You’re omnipotent, so let’s find another way. Then I could stay here with My friends and continue Your work here on earth. It’s not like I’m going to go rogue. I’m still with You; I’ll still work for You. I just don’t want to die, not yet anyway.”
But it had to be this way. I think Jesus reminds Himself of that at least as much as His followers when He says, “Whoever believes in me…’Rivers of living water will flow from within him’” (v.38). Jesus explains, even though His followers cannot yet understand, that His sacrifice is worth it; only after His death can the Holy Spirit (the ‘Rivers’) come to spread the message throughout the world. As scripture says, “There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified” (v.39). For glorification to happen, for the Spirit to come so His followers can take the good news out to the world, Jesus knows He has to go to the cross.
Yet Jesus was human as well as divine and He must have wondered, at least a little, if it could really happen, if the message could really spread through the very human followers He had. Just as the early Israelites must have wondered if the rest of the crop would be plentiful as their initial gathering went up in flames, Jesus must have considered holding back. I know I do.
We, of course, celebrate the Christian Pentecost knowing that Jesus did indeed go to the cross, that God did indeed follow through, and that we reap the benefits in the company of the Holy Spirit. So why doesn’t that make it easier to trust that there will always be enough? Why am I still so reluctant to part with my own firstfruits because I fear they won’t be replenished, much less multiplied? Why do I still struggle to trust God on a daily basis?
It helps to think that Jesus probably had the same struggles. He spent so much time in prayer, because His “living waters” needed to be replenished too. But He had the “living waters,” and because of His sacrifice, I am graced with them as well. It’s only when I return to that Source that I am able to release my own precious firstfruits and truly celebrate the gift of Pentecost.