“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”
This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost – the gift of the Spirit poured out on “all flesh” (vs. 7).
The primary miracle in Acts 2 is a miracle of the ear, not the tongue. The word “hear” shows up three times in this passage. Yes, the real miracle is the ability to “hear” one another amidst all the differences, and to celebrate that which is held in common. Pentecost is the celebration of a new humanity, a new kind of community made possible in Christ.
In our increasingly pluralistic world, difference is seen as the primary threat. This, of course, is the great lie of our age. The modern marketing machine naively implores us to “celebrate our differences,” as though difference were the issue. Difference is not nearly as threatening (or liberating) as sameness. Yes, it is sameness that we fear, and celebrating sameness is precisely what the Spirit makes possible. In the Spirit we can embrace our sameness without dissolving into an undifferentiated glob or devolving into violent chaos.
At the Tower of Babel, God scattered humanity because the threat of sameness had become too great. The only kind of unity imaginable at Babel was a unity born of fear and violence in which “we” could not exist without an enemy – “them” – to hold our “we”-ness together. Seen this way, dividing and scattering humanity by language was a mercy to protect humanity from destroying itself. At Pentecost the Spirit of Jesus offers a new mercy – a new open source language system by which we can hear one another. She gathers us and makes a new kind of unity possible – a unity that is over and against nothing, but with and for all. It is a unity of “us” that is not dependent on the enemy “them” to hold us all together.
Yes, sameness is the issue! Consider the people that irritate us the most. Almost always the thing that irks us in the other is the thing that we can’t stand about ourselves. Of course, this remains largely hidden to us, but the people we struggle with the most are most like us. Our enemies are more like us than we imagine: they are mirrors of our own soul. This is why Jesus calls us to love our enemies. To press the point further, consider that fact that twins were seen as threats in most ancient societies and were often banished, killed, or sacrificed. Think of the twins (Jacob and Esau) in Scripture. They are depicted as rivals from birth. Consider the fact that King Herod descended from the line of Esau and Jesus from the line of Jacob. Herod and Jesus twins? Yes, Jesus is our twin brother who is completely unthreatened by what we hold in common.
At Pentecost we celebrate that we are all created in the image of God. In Christ, the artificial and heavily-defended boundaries of race, culture, and even religion that seem sovereign and impassible are loosened. Instead of forging community over and against others, in Christ, we are free to form community with and for others (even our enemies). This is the miracle of Pentecost. Inside the Spirit, the artificial differences that we use to separate and divide are gone. In the Spirit, the borders are opened, made passable. We are free to come and go in peace. As the psalmist said, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6). Yes, in Christ, we can enjoy a new kind of unity.
This is why Paul can say, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
To be centered in Christ is to hold our boundaries loosely. When we are centered in Christ we can occupy the edges in new and fresh ways. No wonder this week’s lectionary text says the people were, “amazed and perplexed” (vs. 12).