Weekly Reflections: Theology of Pentecost


“Now let’s build a city with a tower that reaches the sky, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered all over the earth.” – Genesis 11:4
“…all of us hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things that God has done!” – Acts 2: 11

World of Alienation and Fragmentation

We live today in a world of alienation and fragmentation. Globalization promises a global village wherein people all over the world will live together in unity and harmony. With all the advancement in science and technology, people all over the world can now easily communicate with one another and can efficiently move from one place to another. With the lifting of government restrictions, people all over the world can now effectively exchange with one another their goods and services, their culture, knowledge and technology.

It does not mean, however, that globalization brings us more unity and harmony. On the contrary, it causes more alienation and fragmentation between and among peoples of the world. It causes more wars and conflicts in many parts of the world as well as the destruction of the cultures and economies of small nations, like ours.

According to the International League of People’s Struggles, the gap between the poorest 20 percent of the world’s population and the richest 20 % increased from 30 times in 1906 to 78% in 1995. The wealth of the world’s 225 richest individuals was equal to the annual income of the poorest 47% of the entire world’s population. The three richest individuals in the world had assets larger than the combined domestic products of the 48 least developed countries. The combined sales of the world’s ten largest corporations in 1991 were greater than the combined gross national product of the world’s 100 smallest countries. All these figures show us that globalization succeeded only in making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Worst of all is the fact that alienation and fragmentation are also seen inside the Body of Christ. The ways of the world also entered the sacred confines of the institutional church. The numerous splits and divisions among churches and the emergence of new religious movements in our country and elsewhere are clear indications of the growing alienation and fragmentation between and among God’s people.

Now, we may ask, why is there so much alienation and fragmentation in our world today, including the church? Why are we so divided and confused in this way?
Tower of Babel

Once upon a time humanity was not divided against itself. Everyone spoke the same language and got along with one another reasonably well. But then, one day the people chose to challenge God. They decided to build a tower in a land in the East that would be so magnificent that it would reach the clouds, making the people become like the gods. This would make a name for them.

The Almighty God reacted to this challenge by confusing their language so that they no longer understand one another, forcing them to leave the tower unfinished.

Now, ever since that time we, human beings, have been alienated and fragmented, and unable to understand each other. We are unable to work together as we ought to be. This story is known as the Story of the Tower of Babel found in the Book of Genesis chapter eleven.

Of course, this ancient story does not intend to explain the origin and development of language within the human species. This is not a scientific explanation of the origins of languages. The real intent of the story is to explain the human inability to live together in harmony. The story has a profound truth for us who are seeking to understand the origins of human alienation and fragmentation. And on this account, the story is extremely accurate.

The Story of the Tower of Babel traces all human conflict to our human desire to make ourselves our own god, to make a name for ourselves. We do not want to submit to authority, to anyone or anything else beyond ourselves. We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it. We have our own selfish interests at heart. Indeed, alienation and fragmentation are the unavoidable results of the human refusal to submit to the will of God.

God’s will for humanity is for us to live in community with God, with one another, and with the rest of God’s creation (cf.Gen.1-2).

Pentecost Story

Now, in the midst of alienation and fragmentation, we are called upon to work and pray for the empowering of God’s people. I would like to believe that the empowering of God’s people happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon the community of faith.

The story of the first Pentecost as recorded in the Book of Acts (Acts 2) was about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people in a way and with a power that was never seen before. Christ promised the disciples before his ascension that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. But like many of what Christ told them, the disciples did not fully understand what he meant.

Now, ten days after Christ’s ascension the disciples gathered together for the Festival of Weeks, called Pentecost in Greek, which celebrated the harvest. At about 9:00 o’clock that morning, there was a sudden whooshing sound like a great wind that filled the house where they were sitting. Next, there appeared to them what Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts, would call “like tongues of fire, distributed and resting on them” (Acts 2:3).

Honestly speaking, I have no idea about what this was all about. I have yet to read a single commentary that gives any insight as to what was being described. This is like a person from the province coming to the city for the first time, trying to describe the city to his friends. He knew what he had seen, but his language didn’t have the right words to explain it. The event being described in the Book of Acts is outside of any previous experiences. That’s why there are no words to explain it adequately.

And then, the people began to speak in tongues in a unique way. In the New Testament, speaking in tongues means speaking in unknown “languages” just as it does today. But at Pentecost, these “tongues” are real languages from all over the known world at that time, so that people from every corner of the world can hear the mighty works of God being proclaimed in their own language.

Thus, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Tower of Babel was reversed. The alienation and fragmentation was somehow replaced with the empowering of God’s people! (Continued next week…Unity, Power and Vision) # nordis.net


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