SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all. He is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6)
Scripture seldom mentions the word “oneness” in one passage as frequently as in this passage. We can see that Paul was very concerned with the issue of unity.
Chinese people have long promoted one world where there is a place for everyone and for each person. They dream of a world of one country and race, where everyone can contribute his or her talents in their fullness, and where all resources are fully utilized. They hope that all people, whether man or woman, old or young, sick or healthy, can receive the love and care they need throughout their entire lives. There would be no deceit or treason, theft or robbery. It would truly be a world of security and perfection.
This is the original quotation from the chapter “ Utopia” from “The Book of Rites” by Confucius:
-“When the Great Virtue and Justice prevail, all the earth will belong to all the people. Rules are selected according to their wisdom and ability. Mutual trust is promoted and good neighborliness is cultivated. People do not regard parents only as their own parents, nor treat children only as their own children. Provision is secured for the aged until death, employment is available for the able-bodied, and means of growing into maturity for the young. Helpless widows and widowers, orphans and the lonely, the sick and the disabled, are well cared for. Men have their respective occupations and women their homes. People do not like to see wealth lying idle, yet they do not keep it for their own gratification. They despise indolence, yet they do not use their energies for their own benefit. In this way, selfish scheming is repressed, and robbers, thieves and other lawless people no longer exist. And there is no need for people to shut their outer doors. This is called Universal Brotherhood (Utopia).”
What is the foundation for “Universal Brotherhood”? When there are such vast differences among people in outlook, in morality, how can such a dream come true?
Paul proposed a firm and permanent answer: God; only through God can this ‘universal brother/sisterhood’ become reality.
Without a doubt there are great divisions among human beings. Even within Christ's Church there are unavoidable tragic divisions. How much suspicion, competition, backbiting, deliberate harm to others, are present among dioceses, religious communities, parish organizations, among clergy, among the laity? How many good friends within the Church have turned against each other because of money, power, fame, face, competition for membership, differing ideologies, or holding stubbornly to what one considers a more ‘orthodox’ interpretation of a tenet of faith.?
I once heard of the pastor in a Christian denomination who turned against another minister over differences of opinion on some situation in China. From being best friends the two became like total strangers. The minister felt it deeply, saying, “How can it be that brotherhood in Christ can be so fragile!”
Paul certainly saw and experienced personally this kind of fragile brother/sister relationship, so said, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4: 1-3) If we call ourselves Christian, then we must act like Christians, “leading a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called.” The most important responsibility of Christians, then, is to work for unity in the Church and in the world.
Certainly, unity is not easily achieved, but Christians must work hard for it and bear witness to it. One requirement is that we must have hearts that are humble and full of love, “bear with one another”, and try to create an environment that fosters all that is required for unity. Paul did not offer solutions, but he cited six reasons for unity: ‘Because we are one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith and one baptism.’
Is there anything in the world more important than these six points? Arguments over liturgy? Disagreements over the ‘ June Forth ( Tiananmen Square) Incident’? Differences of opinion? Differences in class, nation, culture? Conservative vs. liberal outlook? Or democracy, freedom, human rights, the meaning and content of justice?
If we believe God is the Father of all people, the Father of all of us, why cannot we treat each other like brothers and sisters? If God is above all else, understanding all things and in the midst of all creation, why can we not see God in other people? Why can we not trust that other people have the same good intentions as we do? Why can't we let our dislikes dissolve into God? Why can't we, under God, allow our contradictions to become instead challenges so that we can learn from each other, transform each other and be mutually enriched?
‘Universal Brother/sisterhood’, ‘All United in One’, are ideals Christians support and Chinese people dream about. Let us pray and work together to attain them!