Christian Unity

January 27, 2008

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 8: 23 – 9:3; 1 Cor 1: 10-13, 17; Mt 4: 12-23

Dc. Larry Brockman

Are there competing factions in today’s society like those Paul speaks of in Corinth?  You bet there are.  Factions are a sad fact of life- they are everywhere. 

Paul describes a situation we can all relate to today  We see that in Paul’s time people aligned themselves with one movement or another, people felt their group had the answer,  and everyone else needed to be converted.  There was a tendency for these groups to be closed, exclusive, and even hostile to those who didn’t agree with them.  It happened in Corinth over different preachers.  It happens in our community between different groups in the Parish; between different faiths, between one school and another.  And it’s not just here in our immediate community either, because there is a growing tendency towards polarization in society as a whole today.  The current presidential primaries are a perfect example. 

This kind of polarization is fed by people who want to be justified.  Some of them even assume that God is only on their side.  They feel justified by the acceptance and support from their own group.  That even seems to legitimize the hostility towards the others.  But God has other ideas.  One of the most wonderful things about people is our diversity.  God has not given any of us perfection.  Everybody has strengths; and everybody has weaknesses.  It is only together that we can accomplish God’s plan by each person fulfilling God’s destiny for them, and by working together to achieve harmony between factions.  The catalyst for achieving harmony is Christ, whose goal was predicted by Isaiah.  For as Isaiah says of the Lord- “You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing”.  Isaiah is foretelling that God would send his Son Jesus to be one of us; to save us, and that was the source of great joy.   

In the Gospel we see a Jesus who does not act alone.  Indeed, He recruits disciples at the beginning of his public ministry.  But Jesus ministry was intended to heal.  He used his own words and actions to unify and heal and to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom.  We are called upon to do the same- to unify and heal, and to build the Kingdom of God.  We are called upon to abandon polarization and factions.  But how?   

First, we need to recognize that the “truth” is like a three dimensional object.  It doesn’t have just one side to it; there are multiple sides. Likewise, there are multiple perspectives to the truth.  That doesn’t mean that truth is relative.  Rather, it means that no one person is capable of seeing all of the truth from just their perspective.  Living in an affluent upper middle class community colors our perspective on managing resources, for example.  The perspective is quite different in a poor inner city neighborhood.  God’s intent for his people needs to be discerned from these multiple perspectives.  Second, to discern the truth we need to be a prayerful people.  We are simply not able to break down our natural barriers to change by ourselves.  The status quo is often too comfortable.  We need God’s help to move us out of our complacency, to motivate us to grow.  Third, we need to show the proper respect for all of God’s people.  One of the primary ways we show respect is to listen.  As I have already said, nobody has it all.  Nobody has everything completely right.  There are multiple perspectives on the truth.  So, we must always be open to growing, and building toward the truth.  That means we need to listen to “other sides” of the issues- those other perspectives on the three dimensional image. 

Fourth, the message is what is important, not the messengers.  People are often carried away by eloquence rather than essence.  Adolph Hitler was, in a sense, eloquent.  He was very effective at leading people by his style of speaking.  But it is not the style, not the ability to appeal to the emotions which is important.  It is the message itself.  And for us Catholics, the message should be consistent with the values and morality that the Church teaches.  No matter how eloquent or popular a person or group is, it is the message they broadcast that is important. 

Lastly, everything we do should build unity.  Divisive attitudes where individuals and groups destructively criticize each other is counterproductive.  You are not responsible for other Catholic communities and other Catholics, but you are responsible for you.  You can decide to be true to Christ and his Church here and now.  Today Jesus will come among us again and feed our souls with his own strength and wisdom in Holy Communion.  Let that be the beginning of a new chapter in our lives and the life of our Church, a chapter in which we recognize that the truth has many perspectives, not just our own; one in which we will listen to those other perspectives; one in which we pray for the gift of discernment to concentrate on the real message of Christ, the message of our faith in the catechism.  So that together we build unity, and not divisions. 

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