When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in their own language. 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 language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and converts, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
“And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own language?”
When I first read this passage, the word that jumped out to me was “bewildered”. I could picture the crowd: shocked, maybe even panicking as they tried to process what they were hearing. How, indeed, could this happen? What power was at work?
Now, if this had happened today, maybe we wouldn’t be so fazed. After all, Google Translate can do a lot. (Apparently not enough that a barista in Montreal didn’t still tell me to just order my coffee in English, though!) Maybe it wouldn’t be the language-translation part that stopped us in our tracks. Perhaps it would be the experience of understanding and being heard.
When’s the last time you felt truly heard and understood by someone? That feeling that the other person just completely and utterly gets you? I crave this feeling. It’s part of why I love long conversations with friends. I treasure those moments marked by the deep warmth and buzz of connection — and by the sense of being part of something shared, part of a community.
Now, imagine how you’d feel if, suddenly, every person you met understood you. Not just your words, I mean, but your feelings and your experiences at the deepest levels. And not just that… you could understand them, too. Not merely listen to their words, but hear and receive what they were saying, without judgment, misconception, or misinterpretation. The gift of understanding would unstop your ears. Imagine how amazing that would feel: you might laugh, from joy and relief. Or weep, from finally understanding their stories and the cries of their hearts. You might fall silent, struck with wonder and awe.
Language is how we connect to each other — and also disconnect from each other. Communities are built through shared languages. Maybe our languages today look a little different than they did at Pentecost — I’m thinking more along the lines of “left and right” or “pro-choice and pro-life” than “Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic” — but I guess “us and them” divisions have always been part of human history. So many different ways of speaking and hearing and being in this world, and so much un-hearing, disconnect, and misunderstanding. But Jesus has sent us His Spirit, and we know that He can do the unimaginable — no matter how poor our understanding, how closed our ears, or how hardened our hearts.
When we truly listen to and hear each other, we create a common language. We build community. We create unity. It is so easy to see how the fruits of the Holy Spirit might grow in this nourishing space — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. I think all these little, tender moments of connection and community are a foretaste of what is to come. They are a way to heal each other and our world.
So, come, Holy Spirit, and be present even in our littlest moments of connection. Pour out Your gifts upon us so that we might hear, receive, and understand with open ears and open hearts. Translate our words into Love for all to hear. Amen.