(A biblical reflection on PENTECOST SUNDAY – 19th of May, 2013)
First Reading: Acts 2:1-11; Psalms: Ps 104:1,24,29-34; Second Reading: 1Cor 12:3-7,12-13 or Rom 8:8-17; Gospel Reading: Jn 14:15-16,23-26
Almost 100 years ago Dr. Zamenhof, a Polish linguist, constructed a new language that could be shared by people throughout the world. The artificial language Dr. Zamenhof created is called Esperanto, “the language of hope.”
The name signifies the hope of humankind that a common language might heal the divisions that exist among the different peoples of the earth. We even use the slang expression, “speaking the same language,” to indicate harmony or unity of purpose on a certain issue.
The Feast of Pentecost is the Church’s celebration of her unity and universality in the Holy Spirit, and so some of the readings used express this in terms of language.
One of the optional readings for Pentecost is the Genesis story about the Tower of Babel. It presupposes that before the building of the tower, people were united and spoke the same language. But in punishment for humankind’s pride and arrogance, God confused their speech. Divisions resulted and different languages were developed.
Whether or not the events at Babel actually took place that way is not important. What is important is that sin somehow makes it difficult for us to communicate with each other and to understand each other.
Today’s reading from Acts describes the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost. With the Tower of Babel story in the background, the reading underlines one of the key outcomes of the Holy Spirit’s coming – the disciples spoke in a foreign tongue, yet each nationality present heard and understood them in their own language.
In other words, the confusion of tongues attributed to sin in the story of the Tower of Babel is now removed. Instead the Holy Spirit restores, at least momentarily, a common understanding and a sense of unity.
Ever since, we’ve been trying to recover that Pentecostal experience of unity and understanding. Dr. Zamenhof’s invention of a universal language like Esperanto has been followed by: establishing the United Nations Assembly, holding summit meetings, having cultural exchanges and reviving the Olympic Games.
Occasionally people from different countries make a breakthrough in communicating with and understanding one another – not so much in the arena of politics or economics, as on the level of art, music and dance.
For example, pianist Vladimir Horowitz recently returned to his homeland, Russia, for a concert after more than 60 years of absence. He became an instant good-will ambassador because he moved the hearts of the Russian people – not by what he said, but by the music he played.
We don’t need a translator to appreciate such things as the Bolshoi Ballet, or a Picasso painting, or a Calder sculpture. Great works of art seem to transcend spoken languages and touch our spirits to unite us at the deepest levels of our being.
But Pentecost is more than a work of art or music. Pentecost is a new outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit into our hearts to kindle in us the fire of His love. The new language that will unite us is not Esperanto so much as the language of love. Even before a child learns how to speak, it already knows that is is loved by its mother.
Even though a word was never exchanged, the Jew who was beaten by robbers knew that he was loved by the Good Samaritan. Even though victims of earthquakes or floods may live in foreign countries, they welcome the message of love we send in relief aid.
Acts of kindness and mercy destroy divisions and build bridges between people. Gestures of peace and forgiveness reduce hostility and forge bonds of unity.
Tongues of fire may not come down on us today as they did on the first disciples at Pentecost. But may the Holy Spirit fill our hearts anew so that we can speak His language of love to each other and to all the world.
Note: Taken from Fr. Albert Cylwicki CSB, HIS WORD RESOUNDS, Makati, Philippines: St. Paul Publications, 1988, pages 240-241.
Jakarta, 19th of May, 2013
A Christian Pilgrim