Paul arrives in Ephesus, which at that time was one of the great cities in the region. The ruins of the great temple to the goddess Diana are still standing. Ephesus was regarded as one of the finest cities in the empire, a center of politics, religion and commerce.
Paul seems surprised that the "disciples" had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit. They were baptized in the baptism of John the Baptist. What is the difference and why Paul’s concern?
In a recent and intriguing article in a Chicago newspaper, researchers discovered that 80 per cent of people return to their old patterns after recovery from a heart attack, heart surgery or being diagnosed with diabetes. That is, when doctors prescribed to patients new diets and a routine of exercises to follow, most patients, within months, returned to their old eating habits and lack of exercise. It’s very difficult for people to change their old routines, the researchers discovered, even when faced with ill health if their lifestyles didn’t change.
The baptism of John was a ritual of forgiveness. The person sought God’s forgiveness and promised not to sin again. The person was sincere and struggled to fight against the temptation to sin. But within a few weeks, a few months, that person often was back to his/her sinful habits, attitudes and actions. Promises and will power were not enough. We know this experience from our New Year resolutions; they so often fall to the wayside after time.
The baptism in the Holy Spirit was not only a ritual of forgiveness, but a sacrament that bestowed the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who strengthens our will power, who enables us to fulfill our solemn promises. The Spirit enables us to become a "new creation." In John’s baptism, we are left to our own devices. In the baptism of Christ, we are gifted with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate Pentecost, we can give thanks for this wonderful gift of God, the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to be faithful disciples of Christ. "They spoke in tongues and prophesied." Let us be open to the Holy Spirit so that we make those lifestyle changes and speak the words of love, forgiveness and encouragement that we have been afraid to voice.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.