When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy....
After Christmas and Easter (and not necessarily in that order, though of course the birth has to come before the life, ministry, death and resurrection), Pentecost is my favorite holy day. I love the egalitarian nature of the Spirit's visitation and indwelling - on "all flesh." Sons and daughters will prophesy. Young and old will see visions and dream dreams. Beyond this, two things strike me in this passage, one more explicit and one implicit.
First, I am struck by the time leading up to this day in the passage. After Jesus ascended 10 days before Pentecost, the disciples had been waiting and praying (Acts 1:14). They were all together in one place, expectant that the Spirit would come as Jesus had promised in Acts 1:4b-5: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Sometimes, we are so intent on doing, doing, doing. And, of course, action - following in the way of Jesus - is not only important. It's crucial. But we also so often forget the importance of waiting. Of just sitting and being. Of expectation and invitation. This waiting shows our dependence on and longing for the presence and power of the Spirit, through which our ensuing action activates God's compassionate call and work in others. The disciples knew they needed the breath of the Spirit to enliven and empower them to change the world.
Second, and less explicit, is the seeming reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel at Pentecost. Genesis 11:1-9 is a strange story on its face, but theologians have suggested three main ways to interpret God's confusion of language and scattering of people in the story (thanks to Sara Koenig's concise commentary for these insights): the people were full of pride and arrogance, the passage is a critique of totalizing empire (Babel is the same word translated "Babylon" in other Hebrew Testament references), and its also a critique of sedentary lifestyles (as opposed to multiplying and filling the Earth). I see all three in the passage, and there are likely others. The point when compared to the story of Pentecost is that, at Pentecost, (1) the people were humble and expectant, (2) the Spirit fall on all flesh, not just those of a certain culture, language, or race, and (3) the result of the Spirit's visitation is to go into all the world and preach the gospel.
As Koenig advises, it is terribly important not to read the story of Pentecost as a solution to multiculturalism. Just the opposite is true! At Pentecost, everyone heard the gospel in their own language, not a singular language. The point is not uniformity, but unity in diversity! The Spirit loves diversity, and is in fact like an uncontrollable, mighty, rushing Wind. It blows where It will.