Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost Sunday (C)
Beyond Chicken & Duck Talk

Picture: cc darkpaisley

Sisters and brothers, have you ever heard a baby trying to speak? You know what it sounds like, right? Sort of like goo goo da da. Or something like that? Which is really very cute. Except that it doesn’t mean anything. At least not to us who are listening. Even if the baby may be trying to express itself, it’s not using language that we understand. We don’t know what the infant actually wants to say. To do that, to truly understand, we have to wait till it actually learns to speak our language.

Something similar happens when people who speak different languages try to communicate with each other. The Cantonese have an interesting way of describing such a situation. They say it’s like a chicken and a duck. Which can be very frustrating. Neither party understands what the other is trying to say. No meaningful connection is made. At least not until the chicken and the duck somehow manage to find a common language. One that both can understand.

And isn’t this what happens at Pentecost? Isn’t this what we find the Holy Spirit doing in the first reading today? In a gathering of people who speak many different languages, the Spirit somehow enables each person to understand what is being said. We’re not sure exactly how it happens. The reading itself isn’t very clear. At first, we’re told that the disciples began to speak foreign languages. Then, later, it seems that, although the disciples were speaking a single language, each of those listening, heard them in the listener’s own native language. It all sounds very mysterious. But, whatever actually happened, one thing is clear. People who spoke languages different from them, somehow managed to understand everything that the disciples were saying. All through the power of the Holy Spirit.

But is that all that happened? Was it really only a matter of simultaneous or auto-translation? Is that the full extent of the Spirit’s power in the first reading? If it is, then maybe we should not be too impressed. After all, with the advances of modern technology, it’s not difficult to arrange something similar today. But could it be that something even more important is happening in the first reading? Something even more meaningful for us. For this amazing new language that the Holy Spirit taught the disciples to speak didn’t just enable them to connect with other people. More importantly, it enabled them to remain connected to God.

Isn’t this what Jesus is talking about in the gospel? If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him…. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. What is Jesus saying here, if not that the Holy Spirit teaches us to speak a new language. One that enables us to connect not just with other people, but also with God. And not just to connect with God, but even to allow God to make God’s home in us. What an incredible thought!

And what is this amazing language, sisters and brothers, if not the language of love? The language that we have spent the past seven weeks of the Easter Season celebrating and reviewing and practising. The same language that Jesus was speaking from the Table of the Last Supper to the Wood of the Cross. From the Tomb of his Burial to the Mount of his Ascension. The same language that Jesus continues to speak here at this Mass. From the Proclamation of the Word at the Ambo, to the Breaking of Bread at the Altar. The language of God’s undying love for us. A love that refuses to let us go. A love that continues tirelessly to seek us out. And to send us forth. This is what the Spirit teaches us. This is what the Spirit is for us. The power to speak and to live a new language. One that allows us to remain in communion with God and with one another.

Which also helps us to understand what Paul means in the second reading, when he makes a radical distinction between the unspiritual and the spiritual. Your interests are not in the unspiritual, Paul writes, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. What is Paul saying, if not that the Spirit teaches us to speak a language that gains us access to God. No longer the unspiritual language of selfishness and sin. But the spiritual language of love and self-sacrifice. A new language that allows us finally to understand the Mysteries of God. The same Mysteries we are celebrating at this Eucharist. A language that enables us to cry out to God. No longer saying goo goo da da. But Abba, Father!

Sisters and brothers, isn’t this the true and precious gift of Pentecost. A gift that we need so much, especially in our world today. A world in which we find such difficulty connecting with those who may be different from us. And even with those who are very much the same. Our colleagues at work. Our fellow parishioners in Church. Members of our own communities and families. Ours is a world where we often feel surrounded by many, and yet truly known and understood by very few. A world that often seems to comprehend no other language than that of insecurity and jealousy. Of selfishness and greed. A language that leads too often to isolation and indifference and exploitation. Instead of solidarity and compassion and care.

In a world such as this, isn’t it all the more important for us, sisters and brothers, to do what the disciples did on that first Pentecost. Isn’t it all the more important for us to continue making every effort to speak and live and even to teach the new language that the Spirit imparts. No longer the self-centred dialect of infants. But rather the Spirit-inspired speech of the children of God. The language of God’s love for us made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sisters and brothers, as we bring the great Season of Easter to a close, how might we continue to speak and to live this new language? How ready are we to keep progressing beyond chicken and duck talk today?


  1. It has been said that "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care". The language of love is one that transcends nationality and any other barrier.

  2. Indeed, people with a HEART seem to become "extinct" here in a city of excellence like Singapore....where, IT (high tech systems etc), secularism and commercialism seem to "overpower" all things spiritual/religious...

    yet, we can only speak the language of love if only we have experienced the God of LOVE and are ready to LOVEm and LIVE like God does...

    how ready are we to speak this language with courage and with a deep conviction that God is love?

    do we dare to be different and to walk on the road less travelled since we have to pay a price by going against the tide (against what the rest of the world/ the majority of society is doing)?

    the Lord has paid a high price for us - by dying for us - do i/we dare to do the same for Him?

    May the Lord grant us His PEACE, JOY and LOVE always.


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