What language do you speak?
interpreted by Deborah
On the day of Pentecost, all of the disciples got together.
Suddenly from above, there was a roaring wind like a cyclone that tore through the whole house where they were sitting. Flames like tongues of fire appeared in their midst, and touched upon each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and immediately began to speak in the languages the Spirit entrusted to them.
During the festival devout pilgrims from all over the world were visiting Jerusalem — and this uproar drew a crowd.
In amazement, they asked one another, “Aren't these Galileans?! Yet somehow each of us hears them speaking in our own language! From every nation, region, and culture — from urban centers to provincial backwaters; whoever we are, wherever we have been, whatever we were taught — we hear them speaking to us in our own language about God's powerful acts.”
No one could imagine what was happening, and many were asking, “Can there really be something to this?”
But others sneered, “They've been celebrating with sweet wine!”
Peter was standing with the others, and he spoke up, “You Judeans and everybody in Jerusalem, listen! Now pay attention: These people aren't drunk, as you're saying: it's only nine o'clock in the morning! No, what this is, is what the prophet Joel foretold:
'In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people: children will prophesy, young people will see visions, and elders will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out My Spirit upon my servants, even the least of them, both men and women; and they shall prophesy.
'And I will set omens in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood, and flames, and smoke. The sun shall become a shadow and the moon turn to blood, before the Lord's great and marvelous day comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
“and immediately the disciples began to speak in [new] languages”
Back in the days when I was wrestling with verb conjugations and other sinister convolutions of Romance languages, I dreamed of a shortcut — something along the lines of the brain transfer scene in Young Frankenstein. Imagine: a short surge of electricity between you and Andre, and voilà! you could parler Français, too!
Sadly, barring a divine zap from the Holy Spirit, one actually has to study — and study a lot — in order to speak another language. Rats.
But there was more to the Pentecost experience than instant language-aquisition. The other aspect of this gift from the Spirit was the use of it. Apparently it struck ⚡ the disciples as a demand, a force, insisting to be spoken — and they immediately began to speak of God's power, unable to hold back. It was irresistible.
As nice as it would be to speak another language instantly, imagine being impelled — absolutely unable to shut up; incessantly talking about the life and ministry of Jesus. Imagine having to preach the Gospel to everyone you meet!
"Have you been saved?”
Curiously, while I've heard of that expression, I've never heard it spoken seriously. No one has ever said “Have you been saved?” to me. It serves as a caricature, I think; a straw man set up by those who mock and scorn the Christian impulse (some might say “mandate”) to bring the Good News to all the world.
One thing is certain: that phrase does not have the power to convince anyone of anything — except that the speaker is a nuisance. That’s not evangelism, that's aggravation!
The word used in the Scripture to describe the speaking of languages as bestowed by the Spirit at Pentecost can imply not only talking, but an adeptness at making oneself understood. The disciples were given the gift of effectively communicating God's power and goodness to others.
They did not speak Christianese, that patois believers speak amongst ourselves: “salvation,” “sin,” “accepting Christ,” nor did they chant slogans: “Jesus loves you!” “Jesus is Lord!” “John 3:16!” and so forth. Whatever those words mean to us, they might as well be Sanskrit to those outside our faith.
Christianity is not based on theory, but rooted in our sure and certain knowledge of a wondrous divine-human relationship. Jesus was “born of a woman”: the product of God's abounding love and magnificent compassion, and human faith and cooperation. The Abiding Eternal took on our form, experiencing our joys and our sorrows, our pleasures and our pains, living as we live, and dying as we die.
We proclaim a God who understands us intimately and cares for us faithfully; we place our trust in a loving, compassionate God.
It is only in relationship: in relating-to, in being-with, that this glorious reality can be fully communicated. Words alone cannot convince the fearful, the frustrated, the anxious, the angry, or the sorrowing of the grace and peace of Christ's Good News. Only by reflecting the Lord Jesus' Light in our lives can we comfort and encourage hurting and hardened hearts.
We speak Christ's Truth not in words alone, but in our honest concern, genuine listening, and sincere compassion for others. The gift of holy communication, revealing God's power to others, isn't about we who speak, but about the ones to whom we speak: Where are you, my fellow human being, in the process of living? What are your needs, your hopes, your dreams? What are your fears, your joys; what makes you glad or sad; where do you hurt?
"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console. To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
~ the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
The belief in gracious, effusive divine com-passion must begin in ourselves, in our trust in the One who, striving to understand us fully, embodied Godself in a human creature. You are a wondrous being, amazing in design and magnificent in possibilities. You are lovable and beloved — even when you don't feel that way, even when you don't act that way.
It is OK to be imperfect; it is OK to make mistakes, to succumb to temptations, to slip up, to flail, and to fail — and it is necessary to stand up again, to clear away the rubbish and the rot that impedes us, and go on following Christ. We learn, we grow, we persist. It isn't easy, but it is ultimately important.
No one ever said that being a Christian is easy. It is an ongoing challenge to live a counter-cultural life, refusing to despise and demean all who are “other than” us, speaking the language of compassion instead of condescension and condemnation; of following Jesus instead of following the herd. It is not easy, but the rewards are glorious: peace of mind, love in our hearts, and joy in our souls.
Just as the divine spark enlivened those Pentecost Christians, it can inspire and enlighten us with the language to communicate to others peace and grace, hope, and release from anger and antagonism. There is another way, a Way utterly unlike the path the world demands; a way where gentleness, kindness, and compassion rule the day.
This divine communication, once heard — heard in one's heart: genuinely experienced — is never forgotten. It may be dismissed, derided, brushed aside, but the memory remains, shimmering; the indescribable grace of being accepted, listened to, truly cared about as an individual — for who you are. That's really something. It fuels and emboldens the flame that flickers within all souls: the light that longs for reunion with the Light Eternal.
Who are these people, so foreign to our culture, who speak to our hearts — communicating a holy compassion; who sing a divine lovesong that we can hear above the din of the world's war chants? Who are these whose language makes us weep with joy? How can they be strong and courageous while we rant and rage and tremble in fear? What is the cause of their hope?
We speak the Gospel by living our lives as our Lord Christ taught us. We speak it through compassion, patient understanding, and genuine care for our brothers and sisters — wherever they are in life's journey. That is a language that everyone understands.
May God grant us the grace to speak the holy, redeeming Truth to all we meet.
The grace of Christ be with you,
Reflect and pray:
Seek the Lord and His strength; seek God's face continually.
~ Psalm 105:4
Here I Am, Lord, performed by the Choir and Orchestra of St. Lillian, Florham Park, NJ