Hearing and Understanding


After Kim Clijsters lost the French Open tennis tournament in 2001, she won the hearts of the crowd.  She spoke in French at the awards ceremony, and the people were delighted to hear the Belgian citizen speak their language.  Clijsters then spoke in Flemish, her native-tongue, and she finished her remarks in English.  There were some who followed what she was saying throughout her entire speech.  I was not one of them.

Languages are not my forte.  I often feel like the pet dog I once saw in a cartoon.  The caption in the first frame of the cartoon states WHAT IS SAID  by the dog’s owner — “Sit, stop barking, behave.”  The next cartoon frame declares WHAT IS HEARD by the dog — “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

When the people gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost, the initial sound of the crowds was like me listening to Kim Clijsters speaking Flemish or the dog listening to its owner, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”  The people were speaking different languages and dialects — Galileans, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and more.  Imagine a meeting of the United Nations without any translators!

Then, the miracle of Pentecost transpired.  The people suddenly were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they begin to speak in languages understood by those who had gathered to worship God.  WHAT WAS SAID was articulated in the tongue of one’s native language, but WHAT WAS HEARD was a clear message.

The diversity of the people remained; however, their differences did not divide them.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, they were united.  People spoke.  They were heard.  They were understood.

We now clad ourselves in red on The Day of Pentecost as an invocation: “Come, Holy Spirit!  Grant us such understanding, today!”

Laurie A. McNeill is a member of Hudson River Presbytery and she serves as the Pastor of yoked congregations in Highland and Marlboro, New York.

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