The first reading at Mass on Sunday, unsurprisingly, describes the first Pentecost.
When Pentecost day came round, they had all met in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech.
Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled, each one bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language. They were amazed and astonished. ‘Surely’ they said ‘all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya round Cyrene; as well as visitors from Rome – Jews and proselytes alike – Cretans and Arabs; we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.’
The reading witnesses to an openness and togetherness, born of the Holy Spirit, that offers a striking contrast to the xenophobia and racism that seems to have reared its head in recent European elections.
At the Vigil for Pentecost (a vigil neglected in most parishes, it seems) the first reading offered is the following:
Throughout the earth men spoke the same language, with the same vocabulary. Now as they moved eastwards they found a plain in the land of Shinar where they settled. They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and bake them in the fire.’ (For stone they used bricks, and for mortar they used bitumen). ‘Come,’ they said ‘let us build ourselves a town and a tower with its top reaching heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves, so that we may not be scattered about the whole earth.’
Now the Lord came down to see the town and the tower that the sons of man had built. ‘So they are all a single people with a single language!’ said the Lord. ‘This is but the start of their undertakings! There will be nothing too hard for them to do. Come, let us go down and confuse their language on the spot so that they can no longer understand one another.’ The Lord scattered them thence over the whole face of the earth, and they stopped building the town. It was named Babel therefore, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth. It was from there that the Lord scattered them over the whole face of the earth.
In terms of the Bible, Pentecost is the after, Babel the before. Which is most like our present?
- What unites you with the ‘stranger’/foreigner?
- What keeps you at a distance?
- How do you try to enable communication between you and ‘them’?
And, by the way, do you know where Parthian, Medes, Elamites etc come from? And where Pontus, Phrygia and Pamphylia are? If not check out this map.
It is one of the excellent resources offered in the ESV study bible. For more details see www.esvbible.org
Other image is from http://archive.xaviermissionaries.org/M_Call/NoBorders/NoBorders15.htm