Cycle A – Homily – Pentecost – 28 May 2023
I hope everyone is wearing at least something that is red today. Red is the liturgical color of Pentecost! Pentecost is a great celebration and the major lectionaries are all in almost complete accord, not only for Cycle A but also for Cycles B and C. Our universal church today in all red is really in all one!
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23 or John 14:15-16, 23b-26
Alleluia! Today is Pentecost! Today is the birthday of the Church! But, WE are the Church! This is OUR birthday! If it is our birthday, today we must be celebrating something very special – some point of unity that we all have. And the point of unity is that we can all hear the Good News – each in our own language, each in our own heart. And we can be enkindled by this Good News!
On that first Pentecost, we (the Church beyond the area of Jerusalem) were finally able to hear. Jesus had worked with us (the then local church) for quite a while – teaching us, preparing us to be enflamed. We didn’t understand. Jesus explained that he would send the Spirit who would tell us everything we needed to know and who would help us in every possible way. And on that first Pentecost, the Spirit did indeed come, in tongues of fire, as we are told in Acts. And those who spoke could be understood by us (the new Church) in every imaginable language! This was amazing. Truly a gift of hearing! What is it we are to hear?
In order to understand that, we first need to go back to the story of the Tower of Babel, Genesis 11:1-4. Using select phrases from this passage, we see that,
<<The whole world spoke the same language, using the same words….They said to one another, "Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire."…(and)…"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."….Then the LORD said: "If now, while they are one people, all speaking the same language, they have started to do this, nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do. Let us then go down and there confuse their language, so that one will not understand what another says." Thus the LORD scattered them from there all over the earth, and they stopped building the city.>>
It is easy enough to say that the story of Babel is an excellent allegorical means of explaining the diversity of language in the world. And indeed it is. But, it seems that Babel goes far beyond physical language. The people were no longer hearing the word of God. God’s language is indeed universal and all people should understand it as their own. They were no longer able to understand one another – and perhaps no longer able to understand God. These go hand in hand because if they could no longer understand one another, how could they ever understand God?
Even though the people no longer understood God, God did not desert them. Shortly after the dispersion of languages, God called Abraham and Jewish history began. For the next 2000 years the preparations were underway to bring the people back together, to celebrate the common understanding. Jesus came and the unifying factor was put into place. We (the people of God) could again be one and we had the Good News of our salvation. And Jesus sent the Spirit, as he had promised.
If we look at those early gospel stories, we ought to be amazed at how we (the many people of back then) heard what Jesus was saying and what Jesus had said! There was no divergence of language there! Some will claim that many of the gospel numbers are exaggerations or symbolic in meaning. That may be partly true but it is hardly totally true! When it was time to go out to all people, the Spirit came so that the message could be heard in all languages and by all people. Look at how the early church grew! We, that Church, the People of God of 2000 years ago, heard that message – each in our own language. We do the same today.
The question then becomes, which voices do we hear? Now that we can each hear the words Jesus gave us – the Good News of our salvation, what are we going to do with those words – that Good News? Are we going to live as if each person we meet is Christ? Are we going to love as Christ has commanded us? Are we going to follow the statement of Francis of Assisi to “preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.”? Are we going to live this birthday celebration? Are we going to live this unity we have with all people? Are we going to live this understanding because we do know what we are saying? We have been given the gift of hearing! If we listen, we can hear our brothers and sisters. It is in hearing our brothers and sisters that we hear the continuation of the Good News. It is in hearing our brothers and sisters that we are enkindled by the Spirit to be the Good News to all we meet.
Amid our birthday celebration, amid our joy over our unity, amid our excitement because all of us are able to hear and understand the Good News, certain problems still remain. Are we putting bricks between God and the People of God? Are we creating the rules as if we know more than God? Are we extinguishing the tongues of fire that enkindles our spiritual drive and our spiritual unity? Are we making it so difficult for others of the People of God to hear and understand the Good News that they give up? Have we perhaps begun the rebuilding of the Tower of Babel?
It seems to me that we all should be working to keep that Tower of Babel down and keep the message of the Spirit – the universality of our Church, each in our own language – triumphant because we are all the People of God!! Happy Birthday, Church!!
Dr Roberta M Meehan