Friday, January 22, 2010

One in Christ, No Matter How Different (Friday Week II in Ordinary Time, Mark 13-19)

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him.He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles,that they might be with himand he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons:He appointed the Twelve:Simon, whom he named Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder;Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew,Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus; Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean,
and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

Those of us who have studied Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics know that one of the most significant characteristics of Christian thought is its great synthesizing ability, i.e. its capacity to bring together seemingly contradictory points of view and tie them together into a harmonious whole that doesn't crush difference, but highlights it, allowing it to further enrich the life of the church.

Today we see the true origin and root of that ideal—not in an intellectual or theoretical way, but in the most practical, down to earth way. Christianity’s ability to bring together seemingly clashing viewpoints began, not with Saint Augustine or Thomas or the Medieval Scholastics. It started with Jesus himself. And today’s gospel reading brings it into full view.

It is perhaps one of the greatest testaments to Jesus’ ability to bring people together in peace and harmony, that the band of men he called disciples were individuals of differing and even conflicting characters, personalities, agendas, visions, and dreams. In this band of disciples, extremes met, not to clash with one another, but to enrich each individual in harmony and friendship.

Consider just these two personalities. On the one hand, there was Matthew, a tax collector, an outcast, hated by most Jews for being agents of the Roman occupying power. Tax collectors were despised not only as traitors but as cheats. On the other hand there was Simon, often called “the Zealot”. He belonged to a band of fiery and violent nationalists whose stated aim was to liberate Israel by assassinating Romans and Jews who cooperated with them.

Under different circumstances, these two would’ve probably killed each other. Instead, with Jesus these two men at two opposite extremes of the socio-political spectrum came together as brothers. No doubt among the others in the group there were all kinds of backgrounds and opinions. It is one of the most beautiful truths about Christianity that it began by insisting that the most varied kinds of persons could live together and accomplish great things because of their attachment to Jesus.

With him, this band of widely diverging characters learned one of the greatest strengths of the church: that we can be different from each other and yet be at peace; we can have different viewpoints and yet respect each other; we can have different ideas and visions about what life, faith, or church should be, and yet never lose our love for each other.

The disciples in today’s gospel reading did not have to give up their unique individualities and characters; they remained different to the very end. Yet they found themselves bound to each other by unbreakable ties—all because they looked not to their differences, but to the one person who kept them together in harmony and peace: Jesus.

The key to genuine and lasting community will not be found in ourselves, not even in our greatest efforts. As St. Paul never tires of saying in his letters, the key to genuine and lasting communion lies in Christ alone. If we bind ourselves to him, we shall find ourselves bound to one another, no matter how different we are.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)