The following is a reflection on Acts 2:1-21, the lesson properly appointed for the Day of Pentecost, year B of the Revised Common Lectionary, and Genesis 11:1-9 the lesson appointed for the Day of Pentecost, year c.
Pentecost is often interpreted as the undoing of Babel. At the tower of Babel, God confounded the speech of His People so that they could not communicate with each other. At Pentecost God gave the apostles the gift of being able to speak in many languages so that they could communicate with others.
But, I think there is at least one other, though perhaps subtle, similarity.
It has been frequently noted that God, especially in Genesis, appears to be “anti-urban.” He doesn’t seem to appreciate cities. The story of Cain and Abel seems to have an anti-urban flavor to it. Cain is told to wander, but instead he forms a city that he names after his son. This is not smiled upon. Babel is destroyed. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had…issues.
I think there is something to this observation. However, I think it’s more than ”God doesn’t like cities.”
I think it has to do with wandering and settledness. God seems to want his people to live a nomadic life. He wants his people on the move.
In this vein, Cain’s city wasn’t the problem. The problem is that he was told to wander, and instead he settled down. Abraham was called by God to pick up and move far from the land of his fathers, and go to a new land. In Babylon people were too settled, and seemed to have everything they wanted and needed.
I don’t know if this is a reaction to Eden. After all,Eden was a place of settledness and contentment—and we rejected that. Is God just giving us what we asked for?
I don’t know.
But, this I do know: at Pentecost God sent his apostles and followers to go out into all the world. Every corner. And he equipped them with the gifts and resources that they needed to do just that.
At Pentecost the Church wasn’t given a mandate to stay-put, set up shop, and get comfy. At Pentecost the Church was given maps and itineraries, and they were sent on their way.
What is interesting is that while Genesis can be seen to have a “anti-urban” flair, you can’t say that about the nascent Church. New Testament Christianity was very much an urban movement. I think it’s interesting to note that these days when we so often we equate religiosity with rural environs.
But, the really important point here is that part-and-parcel with the movement of God, is our call as God’s people to be wanderers. We aren’t meant to get too settled. Too rooted. Too rigid.
At the very least our spiritual lives are meant to be a pilgrimage, where the dangerous place is the place that gets too comfortable: stagnant.
We are to be on the move, and our churches are meant to be on the move.
You know those Bibles that have all the maps in the back of them, complete with the journeys of Paul, the cities reached in Acts, and the routes that Jesus took in the Gospels? Our life is meant to look similar. With dashed-lines, and obscure paths, and circuitous routes.
A life like a labyrinth. Always moving towards the center, but always moving nonetheless.