Holy Asides
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May 18, 2015, 8:22 PM

Pentecost: Release from the Captivity of Confusion

One of the theological insights of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost is the reversal of Babel—that event where God confused the languages of those attempting to build a tower and make a name for themselves. On Pentecost, when the Spirit lighted upon the disciples, they began to speak in other tongues. As a result, many heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language. However, it is not the restoration of language that is primary—it is understanding. In Babel, they ceased to understand one another, so they gave up. On Pentecost, the Spirit gave understanding to the people as they heard the message proclaimed. This is an important distinction, primarily because of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and the believer. God sent the Spirit to unite us in Christ, to reveal the truth of the Kingdom of God, and to equip us with the ability to proclaim that truth to the world.


Jacques Ellul writes about this distinction in The Meaning of the City, explaining the great city of Babylon as the culmination and foretelling of what had begun in Babel. Moreover, he defines the conquest of Israel, the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of God’s chosen people by Babylon as a natural result of misunderstanding. “Israel captive in Babylon is in no sense comparable to the captivity in Egypt. It did not mark the people in the same way. One is a shadow of sin. The other is confusion. Two different captivities of the Church.” 


These "two different captivities" are a brilliant observation, because it defines so much of the struggle and difficulty that exists within the Church, and in the relationship between the Church and the world. Much of our theological energy is spent on defining the captivity of Sin. The death of Jesus atoned for the Sin of the World; and his resurrection from the dead on Easter morning released us from this captivity once and for all. This is the message of grace and salvation—of life everlasting. But, without the Spirit of God, we are still captive to confusion and misunderstanding. The Holy Spirit brings wisdom, reveals truth, and enables us to grow into the likeness of Christ. The Spirit restores not only the ability of our understanding, but the purpose of our understanding.


When the builders of Babel ceased to understand one another, they gave up—they abandoned their purpose and vision, and then went their own way. This was Israel’s sin that led them into captivity. They were to be the light to the Nations. They were to live as God’s covenant people, keep the commandments, and care for the poor and weak. Instead, they failed to understand that role and were sent into exile. The Spirit of God unites and unifies us in our purpose. Rather than going our own way, we are brought together for the glory of revealing the grace and love of Jesus Christ. We are brought together for a common purpose of bringing the revelation of who God is to a world that is still captive, not only to sin, but to confusion. This makes discerning a common vision for our parish (and for the Church world-wide) all the more important. Because, how will the world understand our message and purpose if we are confused ourselves? 


This Pentecost Sunday, let us come and rejoice in the Spirit that has set us free from the captivity of confusion and misunderstanding. Let us continually be filled with the Holy Spirit, that we may be united in our vision and purpose of who we are as God’s Royal Priesthood, and that through the Spirit we may bring the understanding of the grace and glory of Jesus Christ to all we encounter.

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