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 the native language of each. 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? 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 proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
Would things be easier in Jerusalem today if we could all understand one another? We think the location of Acts 2 is near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which today holds Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. When visiting with our Palestinian tour guide from Bethlehem Bible College he recalled playing football with Muslim friends as a boy on the plaza between the two sites. We were there just after the Israeli police raided the mosque during Ramadan and saw the broken windows and found rubber bullets.
It’s not just language that is our barrier. The Holy Spirit, it seems, gave the first believers a head start with linguistic skills, but social skills and cultural learning evidently were not automatically imbued. ‘Others’ sneered at the miracle, and mocked those who reacted with awe.
The belittling of other religions and beliefs definitely still exists in Jerusalem today. The tension of each place is exasperated with the constant presence of soldiers with guns who decide who is allowed to pray at these sites and who is not. And tourists often only see the Holy Sites, ‘the dead stones’ and ignore the ‘living stones’ (Munter Isaac). Language is only one barrier to real communication, we also have to really see, respect, and love the other person and all their (maybe even unusual) piety.
Creator God, You have given us the tools to see where we are blind, Help us connect with our neighbours, Love our neighbours, Rejoice with and for our neighbours, And hold hands to praise you. Amen,
Victoria Turner, PhD Candidate, Augustine United Church, Edinburgh