The Greek traveler stood bewildered in the Jerusalem crowd. What was happening? All about him Jews from many nations milled excitedly and pointed to a group in the center of the square. The traveler had heard that the Jerusalem holidays were exciting, but he was not prepared for this. The crowd was electrified. What was that group up to? He tried to weave his way closer.
“You are drunk!” someone shouted at the group.
The traveler heard one of them, the big man with the gray-streaked hair, respond: “We are not drunk. We are stunned with joy because we have had an experience like Israel had at Sinai.”
The Greek traveler wondered what he meant by that.
“Why not own up?” heckled another. “You’ve been to the wine bottle once too often.”
Then the big man raised his hand for silence. The crowd fell quiet.
“Do not judge by appearances,” he began. “Listen to our words. At Sinai, God called Israel to be a community of faith. God called our ancestors there to be a holy nation. That meant they should form a community that would worship God and live a worthy life. God also summoned them to be the light of nations, that is, to be a missionary witness helping all people to know God.”
“I think I can agree with your first point,” ventured a Pharisee in the crowd, “but I don’t really believe God wanted us to be missionaries.”
“My friend, you have forgotten the meaning of the story of Jonah,” the big man remarked. “He was a preacher told by God to go on a missionary trip to Nineveh. Recall that Jonah resisted the call at first until God overcame him. Jonah was an example of how Israel, too, resisted the call.”
“Who is that man?” the traveler asked of no one in particular.
“His name is Peter,” a tradesman replied.
“He is their leader,” said a woman nearby.
A young woman in the crowd, moved by Peter’s sincerity, asked, “How is it you were speaking in a language we all could understand when you burst upon us here in the square? How did you manage to unify all of us who speak so many different tongues?”
“Perhaps I can explain this best to you,” Peter answered, “by comparing this to the old story of the Tower of Babel. That was a tower of human pride that resulted in a breakdown in communications. The people at Babel could not understand each other.
“Our Master, Jesus, asked us to spend time in prayer to await his Holy Spirit. We followed his word and meditated for nine days in the Upper Room. Into that tower of prayer this day came the Holy Spirit, whose greatest work is to bring all people to unity in Christ. At Babel, people babbled. Here we speak a message that will unify people in mind and heart.”
“Is that why you said you’ve had an experience like that which Israel had at Sinai?” asked an elderly man.
“Exactly,” replied Peter. “The difference is that what happened at Sinai was but a shadow of the promise and reality that has happened here today. It is because of Jesus, who died and rose for us, that it has happened. Because of him and his Spirit, we really can be a community of faith and a light for the nations.”
“How can we have this experience?”
“Is there any hope for us?”
“Go on, tell us more.”
“As I look out over the vast crowd in this square,” answered Peter, “I think of a world full of dead bones. I know that my comrades and I must go into this valley of the dead and bring life. Don’t you remember the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones?”
[God] said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “Lord GOD, you know.”
Then he said to me: “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!…I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin,…and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
The traveler listened to Peter’s voice as it carried over the square. It is like a wind, he thought, bearing good news to the world.
On that Pentecost day, Peter asked the people to repent, to change their way of life, to seek a new life in Christ. And they did respond. The Holy Spirit of Jesus moved into the valley of dry bones and brought three thousand to life.
A new Church began!
“Your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams,” Peter exclaimed.
That’s what happened. The young let loose a flood of heart-expanding ideals across the earth. The old suddenly realized that their dreams of a happier tomorrow were no longer foolish thoughts, but a reality come true.
Rev. Alfred A. McBride is the author of several books on catechetics in the 1960s as well as a popular presenter on catechetics in the United States immediately following Vatican II and more recently in introducing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The text from this is adapted from his book The Story of the Church: Peak Moments from Pentecost to the Year 2000 (St. Anthony Messenger Press).