- Fr. Satish Joseph
Pentecost: The De-Babelization of the World
Pentecost was a provocative event. Often enough, its over-simplicaiton and limitation to the happenings in a small room, to a small band of Jesus' followers, robs the event of its radicalness.
The feast of the Pentecost as a ritual originated after the Exodus of the Hebrew people from slavery to freedom. Yet, this feast takes us to Babel in the book of Genesis. Genesis 11: 1 tells us, “The whole world had the same language and the same words.” The people then built the tower of Babel, saying, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves….” They were afraid that they would be scattered all over the earth and get lost. It seems strange that God responded by confusing the people with many languages. However, this is scripture’s way of saying that humanity had begun to trust less and less in God and more and more in designing their own destiny. In other words, the confusion at Babel is a consequence of human arrogance and pride.
Fast forward to Pentecost described in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It tells us that even though people spoke in different languages they all understood each other. What happened on that day was the exact opposite of what happened in Babel. I call Pentecost the de-Babelization of the world. On Pentecost day, the same Spirit that was present at creation; the same Spirit that transformed chaos into harmony; the same Spirit that transformed darkness into light; the same Spirit that gave life to human images of clay, the same Spirit descended once more upon the world. At Pentecost, the tower of human arrogance, pride, confusion and fear was destroyed and a bridge of understanding and harmony was built. Pentecost is a re-creation of the world. Pentecost is a new era in human existence. Pentecost is a celebration of the restoration and healing of the world.
The practical implication of the feast should make each of us stand in awe.
1. Pentecost: An Invitation to be Instruments of Healing. At our baptism, Confirmation, and for that matter at very Eucharist, the Holy Spirit is given to us anew. On this feast of the Pentecost, even as we ask Jesus to breathe into us the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is also inviting us to be people of restoration and healing. We are aware of the disharmony, the distrust, the arrogance, the turmoil in our country and the world. Like the people of Babel, there are many people whose arrogance and pride leads to disharmony and destruction. However, the Holy Spirit is gifting us the ability to become a new people that seeks healing and restoration. Today’s feast invites us to become a people that chooses harmony, to become a trusting and trustworthy people, to be a people that build bridges. I am pleading with you. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to do the work of healing and restoration through us. May we be sacraments of healing and reconciliation.
2. Pentecost: An Invitation to Freedom from Fear. In today’s second reading, Paul says to the Romans, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but a spirit of adoption….” Fear is a great evil. Fear makes us inhuman. Much of the disharmony in the world and in our nation can be attributed to fear. People arm themselves because of fear. Nations arm themselves because of fear. The racial tension prevalent in our society comes from fear. In the secular world, the opposite of fear is boldness. Not so in the Bible. Especially in the New Testament, the opposite of fear is love. John says, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). I call Pentecost the ultimate feast of love because it removed the fear people had of each other. Barriers were broken, people understood each other, and people said of the Christians, “See how they love one another.” Today, let us invite the Holy Spirit into our live so that our fears may be replaced by God’s love.
3. Pentecost is the Celebration of Peace. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus appeared to the fear-filled disciples and thrice said to them, “Peace be with you.” Then he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Immediately after this Jesus entrusted the ministry of reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins to his apostles. Pentecost is a celebration of reconciliation and peace. Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Today, Jesus sends us. Let us go forth as sacraments of reconciliation and peace. In our families, in our work place, in our neighborhood and in our church, please let us build bridges, not towers and walls. Let us put aside disharmony, fear, and misunderstanding. Instead, as a Pentecost people be sacraments of the Holy Spirit.
The celebration of Pentecost can be a world transforming event. If nothing else, it can transform our personal life. Filled with the Spirit of Jesus, then, we can become sacraments of transformation in the world.