20 February 2009 Friday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time
Gen 11, 1-9; Psalm 33; Mark 8, 34- 9,1
The first reading is the famous story of the Tower of Babel. The people builds a city with a tower to “make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered” (v. 4). The story, commentators say, is Babylonian where brick-making is famous in Mesopotamia. Most ancient cities are built with watchtowers, to overlook the order in the city and at the same time, to protect it from marauders. The story may have been an explanation of the diversity of languages and nations. But to many biblical scholars, the Tower of Babel, is a symbol of pride and rebellion against God. Pride because the people wanted a tower that reaches the sky. The sky is believed to be the dwelling of Yahweh — and of gods in other religions. That is why the mountain is always a place for prayer: as Mt. Sinai to Moses, Mt. Olympus for the Greek gods, or the mountain where Jesus went to pray. Pride makes a person feel that he or she is like God, over and above another. It is also a symbol of division: instead of being united in building the tower, they were “confused” because they did not understand each other and thus they were ‘scattered’.
This story becomes the background of the call of Abraham, to whom God promises to choose one nation where all other nations will be blessed. In saving love, God uses Israel to call all peoples back. Commentators believe that the promise of God is fulfilled during the coming of the Holy Spirit. Through Israel where Jesus comes from, all other nations —we, the Gentiles, are blessed. The Responsorial Psalm says, “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own.” During the coming of the Holy Spirit, despite the diversity in language, the apostles speak different tongues, but the people understand them. God brought people together through communication and understanding, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. God brought people together through Jesus, our common love. We come from different backgrounds and cultures, but we understand each other in our common love of Christ. Wherever we meet other people in the world, we all share a common memory, a common story: ask them about Noah, about Moses, about the Tower of Babel; ask them about Jesus and His story; they all know by heart these stories because they are also Christians. In the letter of St. Paul, we are one bread, one body, and we are united in our common love for Jesus. This is what we do at mass. We just show who and what we are.
In our lives, we know that pride can set us apart. Forgiveness brings two warring people together. When we refuse to admit our guilt, or reject another’s reconciliation, the gap between us widens. How many relationships have been destroyed by pride?
We also know that many relationships have been strained because of miscommunication — or no communication at all. There are less instances when talking, listening and having an open heart becomes detrimental in a relationship (sometimes it becomes detrimental when the person is at the peak of pain or anger that they are not yet ready to talk. So we let the heat simmer down first).
I believe relationships acquire depth when two people in love communicate not just the good things, but the issues that span their life and their friendship. The bible contains the good and horror stories of people, including the misguided decisions holy people take. We communicate our stories. Relationships become closer because there is a shared memory. How many times we regret having said harsh words to someone when we begin to know their stories? Or how many times we regret our anger at someone who hurt us, until they tell us why they have been obnoxious or sensitive at that particular time: and common experience tell us that often, the root not about us, but about something else like a family or financial problem that affected their work? When we share our stories with each other, like friends and lovers, it is easy to forgive or to let a mistake pass because we know our loved ones are undergoing perhaps a difficulty or a crisis in their lives.
The ancient stories of the Tower of Babel and the Pentecost still continue to have an effect on us.