The Perils of Pride

Scripture Reading

The whole world spoke the same language, using the same words.
While the people were migrating in the east,
they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.
They said to one another,
“Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.”
They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city
and a tower with its top in the sky,
and so make a name for ourselves;
otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”

The LORD came down to see the city and the tower
that they had built.
Then the LORD said: “If now, while they are one people,
all speaking the same language,
they have started to do this,
nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do.
Let us then go down and there confuse their language,
so that one will not understand what another says.”
Thus the LORD scattered them from there all over the earth,
and they stopped building the city.
That is why it was called Babel,
because there the LORD confused the speech of all the world.
It was from that place that he scattered them all over the earth.
(Genesis 11:1-9)

 

Scripture Study

11:1–9. The text goes on to describe the growth of evil (cf. 8:21; 9:20–27), and, as one of its results, the fact that mankind is scattered and its God-given unity is fragmented. Thus, the text begins by talking about mankind when it was still together; it came from the east, where it originated and settled in the plains of Mesopotamia (in Shinar; cf. 10:10). But the people are filled with pride, and want to make a name for themselves, and to guarantee their own security by reaching heaven by their own efforts. This attitude is epitomized by the project of building a massive tower (we can get some idea of it from the tower-temples of Mesopotamia, the ziggurats, on whose high terraces the Babylonians thought they could gain access to the Godhead and thus dominate God).

The text also offers an explanation for why there are so many languages; it sees languages as a sign of division and misunderstanding between individuals and nations. It is based on the popular meaning of the word “babel”, connecting it with the Hebrew balbaláh, confusion; but in fact Babel means “gate of God”. We have here an instance of literary devices being used to expound deep convictions—in this case the view that disunion in mankind is the outcome of men’s pride and sinfulness.

Babel thus becomes the opposite of Jerusalem, the city to which, the prophets say, all the nations will flock (cf. Is 2:2–3). And it will be in the Church, the new Jerusalem, that men of all nations, races and tongues will join in faith and love, as will be seen in the Pentecost event (cf. Acts 2:1–13). There the phenomenon of Babel will be reversed: all will understand the same language. In the history of mankind, in effect, the Church is a kind of sign or sacrament of the union of God and men, and of the unity of the whole human race (cf. Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 1).[1]

Scripture Reflection

This new sin of mankind is basically the same sort of sin as was committed in paradise – pride. Man has always sought to “think as God thinks” for man reasons himself sufficient to understand everything, without the aid of God. This is a subtle temptation, which hides behind the power of our intellect, given by our Father God to man so that he might know and love him freely. Seduced by this temptation, the human mind appoints itself the center of the universe, being thrilled with the prospect that ‘you shall be like gods’ (cf. Gen 3:5). So, filled with love for itself, it turns its back on the love of God.

In this way does our existence fall prey unconditionally to the third enemy: pride of life. It’s not merely a question of passing thoughts of vanity or self-love, it’s a state of general conceit. Let’s not deceive ourselves, for this is the worst of all evils, the root of every false step. The fight against pride has to be a constant battle, for when pride comes, then comes disgrace (cf. Prov 11:2).

– St Josemaría Escrivá, Christ Is Passing By

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.

 

 

[1] James Gavigan, Brian McCarthy, and Thomas McGovern, eds., The Pentateuch, The Navarre Bible (Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers, 1999), 80–81.