(The Gospel for Pentecost is John 14.15-16, 23b-26.) Usually, I focus exclusively on the Gospel reading; however, for the feast of Pentecost, I think it is important for us to reflect on the first reading—the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit as it is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.)
This Sunday is Pentecost, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and Mary in Jerusalem. We consider this day the birthday of the Church, because on this day, 3000 people are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. The light of Jesus' Risen life begins to spread.
The account of Pentecost is filled with sound.
there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house
at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered
Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
Some of us do not particularly like crowds. We do not like the press of many bodies around us, and the noise of many people talking all at once is unpleasant in our ears. We do not like the feeling that no one knows where we are in the midst of all those people.
But perhaps God is not that concerned with how individual people are feeling. Perhaps God is more concerned with great numbers of people becoming disciples.
Let's think more closely about the people in that crowd. Who are they?
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
We know very well that no one from North or South America is there. No one from Australia is there either. But we are meant to understand that "every nation under heaven" is God's desire. God wants all. So perhaps it is correct to think that God is more concerned with great numbers of people becoming disciples than with individuals.
But what do these people hear?
each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
Imagine walking down the street of a country whose native language is not our own. Our ears pick up all the strange sounds. Perhaps we can understand the foreign language, but it is not the familiar language that we speak with our mum and our dad. It is not our family's language.
In a crowd of people all speaking foreign languages, if one person speaks our language, even if they say it rather quietly, what happens? We hear it. Our head turns in an instant, as if pulled by a magnet. Our eyes pinpoint the person who is speaking. Our ears are finely tuned to the sound of our own language. One word spoken in our native language has the power to be heard above the noise of a crowd.
“Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”
At Pentecost, the people wonder, why does God give the disciples and Mary the ability to speak all these languages? So that,
each of us
Each person's head turns, as if pulled by a magnet, at the sound of his or her language and each person hears the disciples and Mary,
“speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
In the middle of that crowd of people, God knows each person who has gathered. God speaks each individual's language. God calls them personally.
Imagine then, if God calls them by name.
We can try this. We can ask our family members all to talk at the same time, and then, in the middle of the noise, whisper one person's name. Do they hear it? Our ears are even more finely tuned to the sound of our name.
God knows we want to be known—we need to be known—so God calls each one of us individually. This is why when we receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, we are baptized one by one, even if a bunch of people are receiving the sacrament. One by one, we are called by name as the water filled with the Holy Spirit is poured over our head. God knows us. And God knows we need to be known.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Each and all. God wants each of us, and God wants all of us. Each of us receives the Holy Spirit, and all of us are given abilities by God. What are these abilities? Speaking many languages? Possibly for some of us. But our God who knows us personally, gives us personal abilities. Each of us. So that we, like the disciples and Mary, can build the kingdom of God together, each in our own way.