Pentecost is usually viewed as a talking event. Jesus’ disciples come out of hiding and proclaim what God has done. Peter, who has been afraid to publicly admit that he is a follower of Jesus, stands up and explains to a whole crowd of people that Jesus is savior and Lord.
Just as remarkable, though, is the hearing. At first, the crowd scoffs at the disciples’ enthusiastic proclamations, but then they settle down and pay attention to Peter’s speech. His words pierce their hearts, and they ask him how they should respond to what God has done through Jesus.
The arrival of the Spirit has complementary effects, helping some to speak and others to hear.
Both workings of the Spirit are displayed in the day’s language miracle. The disciples, who probably know only Aramaic, declare God’s doings in the whole array of languages of the various immigrants and visitors in Jerusalem. Consequently, “each one heard them speaking in his own language” (Acts 2:6).
An optional liturgical reading for Pentecost is the story of the tower of Babel. The people then spoke only one language. Disregarding God, they wanted to make a name for themselves. They undertook to build a structure right up to heaven.
This symbolized an intention to cross the line between creature and Creator. They would be their own gods. But God came down to “confuse their language,” making them speak different languages so that no one would “understand the speech of another” (Gn 11:7).
By his death and resurrection, Jesus has reversed this rebellion against God. He has opened to us his own humble, trusting way of being with God. This restoration of relationship with God brings a mending of what was broken among us at Babel. That’s what we see at Pentecost. Men and women receive a gift for listening to each other with understanding.
To listen is the most basic thing we can do with each other. It is what parents do — from interpreting an infant’s nighttime cries to reading the subtext of a teen’s angry outburst. But is there any situation in our 21st-century Babel where really listening to the other person is not fundamental?
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series and a writer for the Catholic News Service Scripture column.