Poured Upon All Flesh
Pentecost and the Welcoming Love of God
by Mike Walker | June 7, 2019
The account of the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles begins the story of the church with a demonstration of how much God loves diversity.
Pentecost is the reverse of the tower of Babel. In the tongues of flame, God embraces every language in the world and expresses his glorification of Jesus, the Savior of the world, through those languages. Simon Peter caps the portentous event with a sermon that demonstrates how Jesus is actually the Messiah, the anointed one for whom the Jewish people and the whole world have been waiting since the time of the prophets.
If we look a bit closer, we also see this event illustrates how God has intentionally poured out God’s Spirit on people with disabilities.
As a continuation of the book of Luke, Acts carries forward the story of Jesus spreading the good news of God to all outsiders. Jesus heals numerous people with disabilities, including a man with a “withered hand,” the servant of the faithful Roman centurion, and the ten lepers.
When Jesus is raised from the dead on the third day, he is raised as a person with disabilities. In The Disabled God, Nancy Eiesland, the late sociologist of religion, wrote that as a person who still carries the wounds of nails driven through his hands and feet, “the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God.…The disabled God is not only the One from heaven, but the revelation of true personhood, underscoring the reality that full personhood is fully compatible with the experience of disability.” The risen Jesus, himself a friend of people with diverse abilities, becomes a person with disabilities in his crucifixion and resurrection.
Pentecost points to the vital role those of us with disabilities have in the church.
Peter’s sermon itself is pertinent to God’s welcome of people with all abilities. Using the prophet Joel as his text, Peter claims that God has poured out God’s Spirit “upon all flesh,” including the 150 disciples who have just been motivated by the Spirit to speak a great many different languages in praise of God. The same God who widens the covenant to include a Roman centurion and his household, and who resurrected Jesus from death with wounds in his hands and feet, sends his Spirit to enliven the hearts and minds of Galilean fishermen, farmers, and zealots.
Moreover, the Spirit grants Peter—a man not known for his eloquence—the passion to preach about the “deeds of power, wonders, and signs” that Jesus has done on earth. Shortly after his sermon, Peter and John heal a man who can’t walk, and Peter baptizes Cornelius, another Roman centurion. Because the disciples believe the witness of God’s Spirit, they are empowered to participate in Jesus’s ministry through inspired preaching and healing the sick.
Finally, the Spirit descends upon Saul of Tarsus. Although he is a fervent disciple of Gamaliel and fierce opponent of the new expression of Judaism, his conversation with Jesus on the Damascus road illuminates his new mission as the primary apostle to the Gentiles. Notably Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” may have been a reference to disabilities of his own. As a person with both impairments and multiple gifts, Paul is the kind of witness Christ calls the church to be in an age of anxiety and vulnerability.
Pentecost points to the vital role those of us with disabilities have in the church. Let us give thanks for the Spirit who uses all of us, of every ability, in every tongue, to reflect God’s limitless glory.
About the Author
Mike Walker is a theologian of disability from Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada. He completed a doctorate in theology at the University of Toronto in May 2018 and has numerous church-related publications and presentations to his credit. He is a teaching fellow at North Park Theological Seminary and is happy to be a part of the faculty there. He’s happier still to be able to share God’s hospitality with readers through his research on theologies of disability. He is also an inveterate classic-rock nerd.