Many years ago, I ran a race. It was called “A Run for Peace.” There were almost 400 runners and walkers. I was among the walkers. It comes as no surprise, but I did not come in first. Although if they was a prize for the oldest runner in the race, I would have received it. I am happy to report that all along the route there were folks cheering us on. Tempted to cut the 3 Mile Race short, I was inspired by the crowds on the sidelines yelling: “Come on David, you can do it. Only two miles left. Come on, only one mile left.” Then I saw the crowds at the finish line. The clock showed 55 minutes. The race was over. Thank goodness.
Let me suggest to you that on this day, this day of Pentecost, as the Book of Genesis tells it, the Spirit of God breathed on the waters bringing order out of chaos. In addition, our Jewish ancestors remembered this and each year at harvest time, they prayed that God’s Spirit would bless their land, bring forth the harvest, and keep the sea in its bounds, bringing order out of chaos. The Great Spirit responsible for wind and fire and water needed to be acknowledged. The community prayed that this Earth Spirit would be benign, that the earth would give its fruits graciously, that together the human spirit and the earth’s spirit would not be enemies but friends.
Christians, after the death of Jesus, took this harvest festival, and saw that that same Spirit quickening the earth was His Spirit. That Spirit was given not only to the earth to empower it, but also given to them, to empower them to live together in a community founded on hope. One of the images of that community filled with hope was that of the diverse languages.
Parthians, Medes, Elemites, people from Phyrgia and Pamphilia, the coast of Tyre, all spoke different languages. Yet wonder of wonders, language didn’t matter. They understood one another. It’s a counterpoint to the Tower of Babel, when no one understood anyone else. Now in the spirit of Jesus, their speech was not a babel, but a song. They recognized and celebrated their diversity; they recognized and celebrated their oneness. In the spirit of Jesus, they became a community of disciples, held together by a shared hope. St. Paul puts it this way:
We have all been given to drink of the same spirit.
No more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female –
We’re all given to drink of the one spirit.
We share an adoption as children.
David J. McBriar, O.F.M.