New Beginnings and Betrayals

I have been talking to a real “somebody”.  He works in one of those big buildings in Pretoria… not one of the government ministries, but one of the other organisations which co-operates closely with government.  We were talking about religious matters and about what inspires people.  When I asked him, “What are you passionate about?” his answer came straight from the heart:  “poverty and corruption!”.  He is angered at how so many of the resources that should be alleviating poverty are being used to turn bureaucrats into sugar-daddies, complete with shiny suits, fancy cars, and greedy mistresses.

This weekend we are celebrating Pentecost.  We remember how the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles and the women in the Upper Room, and how the power of the Spirit enabled Peter and the others to proclaim the new life in Christ.

This is a great feast day, the birthday of the Church, and the culmination of the Easter season.  But do we remember what happened shortly after, when the young Church was still finding its feet?  Do we remember Ananias and Sapphira, the husband and wife team that defrauded the community, or Simon the magician who tried to bribe the apostles so that he could be empowered by the Holy Spirit?

When we read the harsh words spoken by Peter as he challenges those early tricksters, we find little Christian forgiveness! Peter denounces each of the three in turn because what they have done is a complete betrayal of Pentecost.  God gives his gifts freely.  We are supposed to do the same, holding nothing back, ensuring that each has what is needed and no one goes without.  Fraud and corruption have been with us from the start, but it is our response to it that has been watered down.  Why do we not speak out like Peter?

We still hear quite a lot about the “miracle” of 1994 when people marvel at the peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa.  Without forgetting the many that died in the years preceding 1994 – over 100,000 in KwaZulu-Natal alone – we can be thankful that we were given another chance to become a better and more united nation.  Perhaps there was a touch of Pentecost in the events of April and May 1994.

When people get a fresh start, therefore, we should stand up against anyone who tries to subvert that new beginning for selfish aims.  Who are these men in the shiny suits, and why do we tolerate their corruption?  What has gone wrong with our people when they aspire to live the shallow lifestyle portrayed in kwaito videos rather than reach out to help others, save for the future, and subvert those who have abused the common good?

The Holy Spirit of God is an unpredictable, overwhelming force for good.  The Spirit is given to those who are willing to put themselves at God’s service.  Why not you?  Why not today?

Fr Thomas Plastow SJ
BA, HDE (UCT), MA Philosophy (Heythrop, London), BST (Urbanianum), MA Theology (Catholic Theological Union, Chicago)
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