Text of an undated talk given by my father, James Ewart Miller
The Tower of Babel
Remember the story of the tower of Babel where men tried to build a tower that would reach to heaven? Those ancient people were engaged in an unworthy enterprise. They were trying to make gods of themselves. When they couldn’t understand each other’s languages, their plans were thwarted. Being unable to communicate, they could no longer cooperate. The building of the tower had to stop.
Suppose that men have a worthy goal. Suppose that we strive in our day for such ideals as justice, brotherhood, and pace. The achievement of the goal will never come to pass unless men, regardless of color or religion or political party, learn to speak the same language. Take the word “democracy”, for example: when a Canadian talks about democracy he is apt to mean one thing; when a Russian talks about democracy he is almost certain to mean another. Is it any wonder that in many areas of life men cannot cooperate? The failure of mankind to achieve the worthy goals for which it has often striven, results from a failure of communication, for there is no common language among the broken fragments of the family of man.
The Good Samaritan
The language of deeds is understood by all. This point is illustrated in the story of the good Samaritan. The gulf between the Jews and the Samaritans was bridged in Jesus’ story by a kindly deed. The Samaritan in the story did not try to communicate with the Jew in speech. He dispensed with the language of words and substituted the language of deeds. He went to him and picked him up. He washed and bandaged his wounds. Then he put on his own beast. The story does not record a single word that passed between them. Even if words had been possible they would not have been necessary. The language of deed was all that was required. The language of deeds is the common language that all men understand. By means of this language it is possible to communicate across the chasms that separate the fragments of the family of man.
There is a third story in the Bible which has to do with the subject of language; like the other two it is, in a sense, a parable. The Book of Acts tells us that the disciples of Jesus did not begin to preach immediately after the resurrection. They were still confused by what had happened and they were also, without doubt, afraid to show themselves in public. But on the day of Pentecost they were suddenly emboldened to preach the good news of Jesus in the open street. It was Peter who first did this. He went out of the house where they were gathered and began to address the people passing by. He told them the story of Jesus. As he spoke, men stopped to listen. They had come, we are told, from many different places. They all spoke different languages. But although Peter spoke to them in the common Jewish tongue of Aramaic, they were all able to understand him. And they exclaimed in amazement, we are told, when they discovered that his words were being miraculously translated … in mid-air so to speak … into their own tongues.
What is the meaning of this?
Does it mean, at least, that the story of Jesus proved to have a universal meaning? Those early apostles spoke the story in words and deeds. It did not matter where a man might have come from; when he heard the story of Jesus spoken in loving words and kindly deeds, he said to the teller, “Mister, you’re talking my language.” Most likely the language of deeds was more convincing than the language of words.
The story of Jesus is a universal language. It talks about the common terms upon which the alienation dividing man from man can be brought to an end, and the broken fragments of the family of man can be brought back together again to become the one family of God.