Filled with the Spirit’s Power

Epiphany 3

Neh. 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 • Ps. 19 • 1 Cor. 12:12-31a • Luke 4:14-21

This Gospel lesson centers on Jesus’ self-promotion in Nazareth, “where he had been brought up” (v. 16), and its environs. According to Luke, Jesus had just been baptized by John, and he had gone into the wilderness and there had been tempted by Satan. Now he arrives in Nazareth. This is therefore akin to our Lord’s debut, the first acts of his public ministry.

Luke, like the other evangelists, noted the descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus at his baptism, “in bodily form, as a dove” (3:22). And he is careful to point out that it is the impulse of the Holy Spirit that drives Jesus at each stage of his ministry. Chapter 4 begins, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness” (vv. 1-2). And now we find him returning to Galilee, again “filled with power of the Spirit” (v. 14).

We might well wonder what it means for someone to be “filled with the power of the Spirit.” Given what we believe about Jesus, about his eternal identity, we might well wonder what it means for him, of all people, to be so filled. In his monumental work “On the Trinity,” Augustine of Hippo asks who, precisely, the Holy Spirit is, and he arrives at a beautiful answer: the Holy Spirit is “the love by which the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father.” And all the predicates we apply to God are aptly applied to this loving communion of Father and Son: this love is personal, substantial; it is itself God.

When Luke says that Jesus is going around impelled by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is saying that the actions of Jesus, his movements within the world, the contours of his ministry, and the things that he speaks to the people — all of it is motivated by the love with which he and the Father love one another, from all eternity. This communion, this eternal and mutual self-gift of Father and Son, is the dynamism that becomes visible to the people, according to Luke, at Jesus’ baptism; it becomes clear that this Holy Spirit is the dynamism that empowers him.

In the epistle from this Sunday, Paul intimates that this same Spirit is given to the disciples of Jesus through the sacrament of baptism: “in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12.13). We may see then how it is that this divine communion of the Father and the Son, which makes them One God, when it is poured out on us, unites us with Christ, and thus with one another. So the variegations which formerly characterized human life, marking us off from another as “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free” (v. 13), are swallowed up by the dynamic communion-in-love which we “drink” in baptism (v. 13).

Look It Up
Pentecost (Acts 2:1-31) is the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples. Interpreters through the centuries have noted that Pentecost “undoes” what happened at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11), where humans were scattered and made unintelligible to one another. Being members of the one Church ought, therefore, to make a difference. One would think the visible unity of Christians would exhibit to the world a compelling alternative to the disunity that seems to be our natural state. How, and to whom, are the visible divisions in the body of Christ a scandal?

Think About It
What are some practical ways that we can cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit, both as individuals, and as communities of Christians?

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