Why did the first divide while the latter reunited?
“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, ‘Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.’ They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (Acts 2:5-12)
Since ancient times, it’s been affirmed that Luke insisted on the miracle of the tongues to help us understand that what happened in Pentecost is the antithesis of what happened in Babel. The Spirit transforms the confusion of tongues in Babel into the new harmony of all voices.
The builders of Babel were not impious people who tried to defy God. They were pious and religious men. The tower they intended to erect was a temple to worship divinity — a ziggurat like those still found in ruins in Mesopotamia.
What was their sin then? “They said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.’” (Genesis 11:4)
The problem was that they were seeking their own glory by means of erecting God a temple. They tried to use God as an instrument. They believed that by offering holocausts from higher, they could get from God victories against other people. God was forced to confuse their speech and put an end to their quest.
It happens the same today. How many Babels do we find even within our parishes, among apostolic movements and prayer groups who intend to benefit from their worship and service to God in order to earn a name, to be more important than their neighbor group? They end up speaking in different tongues and splitting because they can no longer understand each other.
Let’s move to Pentecost now. We also see a group of men — the apostles — ready to raise a tower from earth to heaven: the church. A single tongue was spoken in Babel, and suddenly, no one understood each other anymore. In Pentecost instead, everyone speaks a different language, yet all understand the apostles. Why?
The Holy Spirit blew upon them, enlightened their mind and startled their heart. Prior to this moment, even the apostles were worried about earning a name and argued frequently about who the greatest of them would be. But now, the Holy Spirit has changed their focus from themselves to Christ alone. Their “heart of stone” became a “heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) They have been “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” totally submerged in the ocean of love God has poured upon them. (see Romans 5:5)
“We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” This is the reason everyone understands the Apostles — they no longer speak about themselves, but about God!
God calls us to achieve the same conversion in our life: from ourselves to God, within the small community of our parish, our apostolic movement, our own church, to the great reunion of the whole body of Christ — furthermore, of all humankind.
Attempting to use God as a means to earn a name only causes tension, conflicts and division. Serving God out of love, allowing the Spirit to blow upon us, and proclaiming the mighty acts of God allows us to reunite in one body alone, for God’s glory.
Be passionate about our faith!
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - May 2019
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