Pentecost, June 9
Gripped by the character sketches in “The Custom House” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, an introduction to The Scarlet Letter, I notice aspects of the one room and many tongues mentioned in Acts 2.
What is the Catholic Church? Behold. In the custom house of a port, we meet a ship master, his owner, the smart young clerk, the outward-bound sailor: a going out and coming in of all sorts and conditions of sea-worn humanity. Inside, the custom house is operated by “a row of venerable figures, sitting in old-fashioned chairs, which were tipped on their hind legs against the wall. Oftentimes they were asleep, but occasionally might be heard talking together, in voices between speech and a snore, and with that lack of energy that distinguished the occupants of alms-houses.”
For my exegetical purposes, I take slight issue with this remark: “These old gentlemen—seated, like Matthew, at the receipt of customs, but not very liable to be summoned then, like him, for apostolic errands—were Custom House officers.” In the story they must stay where they are; in the story of faith, however, such persons are often called forth.
Is this not a picture of the Church? “Cluster all these individuals together, as they sometimes were, with other miscellaneous ones to diversify the group, and, for the time being, it made the Custom-House a stirring scene.” And, as each of these characters had, as the author admits, “good traits,” it is within theological reason to place a tongue of fire upon each of their heads. To be sure, their prophetic utterances were nothing more than “the several thousandth repetition of all sea-stories, and moldy jokes that had grown to be passwords among them.” Still, knowing that Jesus called fishermen, do we not see an image of the Church?
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all gathered together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came the sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (Acts 2:1-3).
This common lot of humanity was filled in one place with the one Spirit, and to each was given a distinct tongue of flame and a new tongue for new speech. “And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (Acts 2:8). These were not extraordinary people. These were foolish and all too ordinary human beings whom God deigned to call as witnesses to the resurrection.
Perhaps they continued with their sea stories and parables and well-worn jokes, but they would have turned it all to a new purpose. They were thoroughly in the world but not of it. They walked the streets that Jesus walked, and did the things that Jesus did, and suffered in union with him, and lived in hope of the resurrection.
Who are the disciples of Jesus Christ? They are scholars and prophets and teachers and healers and persons of renown and skill. There are also sea-worn men and prostitutes and the downcast of every kind. What of us? We should presume that we are low. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, … to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). To the humble and the worn, the weary and hungry, the unrighteous and ungodly, the Spirit of God rushes and flickers with new life.
Look It Up
Read Romans 8:14-17.
Think About It
Here is a Spirit of flame and adoption.