By Jerry Donovan
Sunday May 20 was celebrated in many churches as Pentecost the birthday of the church. That was the day that the believers in Jesus Christ received the gift of the Holy Spirit that he often promised them, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7 NRSV) We might want to consider that the miracle at Pentecost was a miracle of hearing or communication.
This event is recorded by Luke in Acts chapter 2 verses 3 and 4, “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.”
There are two ‘theys’ in this story of Pentecost, and for the most part they are both Jewish groups of people. The first ‘they’ are the people who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The second ‘they’ are devout Orthodox Jews from all over the known world such as Galileans, Parthians, or Elamites who have gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Harvest. They speak different languages because they have to because the Israelites have not been Israelites, and the Hebrews have not been Hebrews for hundreds of years. They have long been scattered in far off lands after the Babylon exile.
The remarkable thing about this gift was not that the Galileans (the first ‘they’) are suddenly shouting garbled nonsense, it’s that the 15 or so other groups (the second ‘they’) understand exactly what is being said in verse 8, “And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”
If we are going to talk about the day of Pentecost as a miracle, it is a miracle of hearing and communication. Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit communicate clearly. When those others ask “what does it mean?” they do not need a translator they need a rabbi or a spiritual director. The text tells us that this is a devout crowd, and they ask what just happened means for the way we see the world and my place in it?
Peter realizes that it is time. It is his turn, and though not a rabbi, or a priest, or an authority in the traditional sense, he tries his hand at preaching. Peter begins by explaining that the people he is with (the first ‘they’) are not drunk on wine, because it is only 9:00 in the morning. He continues preaching using the words of the prophet Joel.
Christians say this is our birthday story. A group of people were filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit around the year 30 AD, Peter preached a sermon, about 3,000 people were converted that day, and off to the races we went.