Thinking About Speech

It’s funny how a song or a story will suddenly pop into the mind and sit there for a while. It almost begs, “Think about me. Why am I important? What is going on in your life that brought me to mind?” Sometimes I can ignore it when it happens, but it often jumps on the hamster wheel of my brain and takes off, not stopping for anything.

Most recently, I was thinking of the story of the Tower of Babel, the construction project conceived by King Nimrod of Babylon that consisted of a tower that would reach to heaven and, therefore, to the gods (Gen. 11:1-9). It was a project to show the importance, power, and greatness of both Nimrod and Babylon. We learned in Sunday School that it was the supreme act of hubris, something that the God of the Hebrews abhorred. As the tower grew in height, God made everybody speak in a different language so nobody could understand each other. The inevitable result was confusion and work-stoppage.  

The church’s feast we celebrate tomorrow, the Day of Pentecost, began with the great gathering at Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. The disciples were present, as were followers of The Way (as Jesus’s followers called it), and the Jews worshipping at the Temple. During the gathering, the Holy Spirit descended on the crowd. Suddenly, people were speaking in languages that they hadn’t been able to use a second before.

The two stories, the Tower of Babel and Pentecost, both featured people speaking in other languages. In both, God was the initiator, although the reason for each was quite different. In Babylon, it was to prevent more self-glorification and presumption. In Jerusalem, it seemed to be a way of enabling the message of Jesus to be available for those living outside of Jerusalem or even on the trade routes through the country. One story showed how speech separated people. In contrast, the other showed where diversity of language could bring people together. 

It’s no different today, and language can divide us or unite us. Even where diversity is acknowledged (if not universally celebrated), some people and groups hear particular languages spoken and immediately react with fear and anger. I’m somewhat ashamed that I live in a primarily Hispanic city, but I speak only a few words of Spanish. Suppose I were in a more evangelical kind of Christianity. In that case, I might feel even worse since I would probably be expected to evangelize, so I would need Spanish. On the other hand, I  could evangelize without speaking a word in any language. All it would take would be to live as Jesus wants me to and love my neighbors, show mercy, and walk humbly with God. 

Pass the word – no matter how you do it. 

Have a blessed Pentecost.

Image: The Pentecost, El Greco (ca 1600), from the Museo del Prado.  Found at Wikimedia Commons.

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