Tongues of Fire and Babel, by S. Sharonlu Sheridan, OSF

Tower of Babel, by artist Brueghel, 1563, Public Domain – source WikiCommons

pentecostflamesPentecost!  We praise God and congratulate ourselves at being the recipients of the Holy Spirit.  What wonder happened that day!  After receiving the Holy Spirit, the timid disciples became fireballs speaking of Jesus and the marvel he is and the good he does. They are truly on fire with the love and message of Jesus. Another wonder is that the people listening to the apostles hear their words in their own language!

Imagine that you are in an international airport at Gate 17 and over the loudspeaker comes a message: “Flight 2250 scheduled for Gate 17 is changed.  Flight 2250 will leave from Gate 48”.  You immediately hurry toward gate 48 when you stop short.  The message was not in English or any language you know.  Perhaps it was Swahili, or Croatian.  How did you understand the message!  That is something like what the people in Jerusalem felt when they heard the apostles speak.

Prior to the attempt to build a tower to heaven, Babel, all people on earth spoke the same language. The tower of Babel was constructed of brick and mortar.  These are man-made materials.  Marble and granite are made of lava and materials created by God.  The message of the tower of Babel was “We can make a name for ourselves by building a tower of man-made materials all the way to heaven.” Their foolishness brought about the confounding of their speech, so no one understood the other.  Imagine asking for bricks of a certain size and have the brick maker look at you as if you were speaking silliness. The tower would not rise significantly! Then God scattered the people to distant lands and different colonies emerged. It was the beginning of diversity among the peoples.

On Pentecost, thousands of years later, the Spirit totally reversed the situation of Babel.  It was not that no one understood each other, but that everyone understood and in their own language.  What a smack between the eyes that was!

And us, what kind of tower are we building in relationship to others.  Do we use words that they do not understand?   That is often a problem with very educated people.  They speak in the words of their education and not of the people they are trying to reach.  For example, while I was working as Family Life Director in the diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, I would give workshops.  I had one titled “Familial Relationships”.  Four people signed up.  But when my “boss” told me to change the title to “How You Get Along At Home” I had 37 people in the session.  I had become too esoteric in my presentations. Oops!  I did it again. Esoteric is not a word in general use among people.  Simply stated it means language that is used only by a certain group of people  e.g. something only educators know, or something cooks understand, or Mathematicians.

Do we make sure people understand us?  Think about it.

Peace and Joy,

Sharonlu OSF
Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg

One thought on “Tongues of Fire and Babel, by S. Sharonlu Sheridan, OSF

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