Reflections for February 17, 2017
Friday, Week Six, Year I
Link to Readings: Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 33 Mark 8:34-9:1
A missionary in Africa noticed a new mud hut outside a village. Asking, he was told “That family did not get along with the chief. They moved out.” A few months later there were a dozen new huts. Then there were none. He was told, “A lot of people didn’t get along with the chief, so they moved further into the bush and started a new village.” In a country without writing, it would only be a matter of time before they were speaking a different language.
When children asked, “Grandfather, why don’t those other people speak the same language we do?” God gave his answer in Genesis 11:1-9.
In the beginning, “the whole world spoke the same language.” Then humans discovered the technology of making bricks. This made tall buildings possible. It went to their head. They decided to build a tower “with its top in the sky” and so “make a name for ourselves.” Technology is good, but can come from ambition and lead to pride.
Humans’ first temptation was to become “like God” by “knowing good and evil.” We said above (on Genesis 2:4-17) that this “could mean the right to decide for oneself what is good. That would be to make oneself the criterion, which is the essence of pride, because it is to make oneself like God, who alone is the criterion.” This reading’s temptation is similar. And it dominates our technological culture. We think that whatever we can do we have a right to do— from nuclear warfare to biogenetics. If we limit ourselves to physics without going “beyond physics” to “metaphysics,” the only “natural laws” we will be able to grasp are scientific laws. If we also exclude God’s laws, all our technology becomes a loose cannon.
People without God’s law, motivated by pride and ambition, are bound to fight. When they do, they will have to separate. Soon, even if they use the same words, they won’t “speak the same language.” The result is a fragmented world, destructive to human life.
The story attributes this natural consequence to God, as Scripture often does. But God did not cause the discord. God’s own action is always unifying. At Pentecost, when the apostles preached to people gathered from different countries, by the power of the Spirit “each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” This was a preview of the reversal of Babel, when people will all be one, speaking the “language of the Spirit.”
Ironically, the builders of Babel thought it would protect them from being “scattered all over the earth.” But their effort to protect themselves and their society from dissolution (without God) had the opposite effect. Our reliance on the technology of military power will have the same result. Ultimately, the only way the human race will ever live in peace is through union with Jesus Christ and each other in his Church. Jesus said, “Whoever does not gather with me scatters.” God’s “plan for the fullness of time” is to “gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” He does it, not by force or violence, but by offering himself in love. “We have been brought near by the blood of Christ. He is our peace... he has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be his own
Meditation: What causes division in your world? What would overcome it?
 See Acts 2:1-7; Isaiah 2:1-5.