“. . . that they all may be one, as you, Father, and
I are one . . . so that the world may believe. . .”
These seem to me to be among the saddest words in the Bible. Sad,
because we have failed this prayer so miserably, so consistently,
right from day one. Today we live with a fractured, fragmented Christianity
– East and West, Protestant and Catholic, with hundreds of
splinter groups within the major divisions. How can the world believe
– what is the world to believe – if the witness we give
of Jesus is divided and divisive?
Even if we personally didn’t cause the splits, we have to
be concerned about them. We have to take responsibility for doing
something about them. We fail Jesus’ post-resurrection command
to preach the good news to every creature if our divisions give
the lie to what we preach (if, that is, we even preach it . . .).
Somehow we find enough fervor to be concerned about global warming,
the ecology, rain forests, and threatened species. Why can’t
we seem to muster an at least equivalent concern for this challenge,
surely no less important than the others? The world desperately
needs to hear the good news, but so long as we pigheadedly stick
to our divisions, we make it impossible for the world to hear Jesus’
message. Religion is seen as divisive and therefore irrelevant.
It is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong. So long as
we disobey Jesus’ fervent plea at the Last Supper, we are
all of us wrong. We have to realize that it is possible to have
unity without uniformity. We have to make room for differences and
for different perspectives; but above all, we have to be together.
There is an interesting, possibly instructive parallel in a story
we read a few weeks ago from Acts (Acts 6:1–12). It is the
dispute about whether the widows of the Greek-speaking Jews were
getting their share of the common resources, particularly food.
The dispute was not really about food, but about viewpoints, about
culture, about who was a good Jew and who wasn’t. You can
just hear the two sides as they approach Peter “Tell them
that . . .” “Make them do . . .” Luke doesn’t
tell us that Peter sided with one faction or the other, didn’t
say one or the other was wrong. What Acts does tell us is that Peter
set up a system so that both sides could continue to coexist. That
surely is a powerful illustration of what the Petrine office ought
to be and to do.
It is we Christians who have to manifest to the world the unity
of Jesus and His Father. And we must beseech heaven to help us do
that. God wants to help, that’s clear. We have to want to
as well. There’s the problem . . .