The Tower of Babel, Then and Now

Genesis 10:32-11:9

Today we hear how, as the sons of Noah spread abroad and multiplied, they built a city with a tower reaching to the heavens. The Fathers see this as an indication of human grasping and pride – the more people have, the more they want, until, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they even want to reach for what properly belongs to God Himself. Saint John Chrysostom writes,

Notice how the human race, instead of managing to keep to its own boundaries, always longs for more and reaches out for greater things. This is what the human race has lost in particular, not being prepared to recognize the limitations of its own condition but always lusting after more, entertaining ambitions beyond its capacity. In this regard, too, when people who chase after the things of the world acquire for themselves much wealth and status, they lose sight of their own nature, as it were, and aspire to such heights that they topple into the very depths.

God intervenes when He sees such pride, for He knows the consequences that it will have. He sees that human beings are not ready for a common language and so, by confusing their language, God ensures that they are scattered and unable to carry out their intentions.

However, we continue to face similar challenges, for the destructive tendency to grasping and pride continues to influence human behaviour. But, as Saint John Chrysostom tells us, there is a remedy,

There are many people even today who in imitation of them want to be remembered for such achievements, by building splendid homes, baths, porches and avenues. I mean, if you were to ask each of them why they toil and labor and lay out such great expense to no good purpose, you would hear nothing but these very words. They would be seeking to ensure that their memory survives in perpetuity and to have it said that ‘this is the house belonging to so-and-so,’ ‘this is the property of so-and-so.’ This, on the contrary, is worthy not of commemoration but of condemnation. For hard upon those words come other remarks equivalent to countless accusations— “belonging to so-and-so the grasping miser, despoiler of widows and orphans.” So such behavior is calculated not to earn remembrance but to encounter unremitting accusations, achieve notoriety after death and incite the tongues of onlookers to calumny and condemnation of the person who acquired these goods. But if you are anxious for undying reputation, I will show you the way to succeed in being remembered for every achievement and also, along with an excellent name, to provide yourself with great confidence in the age to come. How then will you manage both to be remembered day after day and also become the recipient of tributes even after passing from one life to the next? If you give away these goods of yours into the hands of the poor, letting go of precious stones, magnificent homes, properties and baths.

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A Reading from the Book of Genesis 10:32-11:9:
These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations; and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood. Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.