“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one… that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:20-23).
As we prepare to receive the Holy Spirit next Sunday, our readings today challenge one all-important virtue: unity. When we look deeper into this concept of unity, we discover it is like a tree that has several branches such as oneness amongst us, care for others who are not of the same flock, praying for others, being tolerant of other people’s views and forgiving others as quickly as possible as we saw Stephen do.
Apart from encouraging us to be united, our readings today also spell out the dangers of disunity by presenting the story of Stephen who was killed simply because he engaged in an argument over matters of doctrine and faith with the Jews. To this day, Christians continue to fight and kill one another over these doctrinal arguments and issues of faith.
As Jesus prayed for unity, He added a phrase: “so that the world may believe thou has sent me.” This means that when Christians are not united, the world finds it difficult to believe that Jesus is truly God. Honestly, disunity among Christians is truly a scandal. A few weeks ago, I was listening to the radio while driving to early morning Sunday Mass and the matter of discussion on air was: “Why is it that all Christians are using the same bible, yet they never agree among themselves?”
What causes disunity among Christians? How can we begin to mend the wounds already created by this grave scandal? These are some of the lessons we shall be considering today.
One: We Must Learn to Celebrate One Another’s Gifts not outshine Them.
Envy is the feeling of discontent or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possession, qualities or luck. Envy is one of the cardinal sins, others being pride, greed, lust, gluttony, wrath and sloth. Envy is the number one killer of unity among Christians. Once we begin to feel uneasy with others just because of their gifts and talents. Once we can no longer celebrate others, we fall into the pit of disunity.
Even though Stephen was ordained to serve at tables, he has some special gifts. He could work miracles and wonders, and he knew the scriptures very well. He was the one who thought Peter (the Fisherman) how to read in a movie I saw about the early Christians.
Some men from the synagogue of Freedmen, from Cilicia and Asia arose and disputed with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Instead of them to recognise the presence of the Holy Spirit in him, they secretly instigated men to lie against him saying: “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” Is this behaviour not characteristic of Christians today?
Dear friends, bear in mind that we cannot all have the same gifts. As St. Paul explains: “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts (1 Corinthians 12:28-31). Celebrate the gifts of others. This way, you too will discover and explore yours as well.
Two: Stop Trying to Win Arguments, Win Souls Instead.
I always feel sad when I see two Christians arguing over matters of doctrine and faith with each trying by all means, to prove the other wrong. That is when you hear Christians quoting the Bible vigorously and vehemently. If the only time you remember the Bible is when you want to “fight” with your fellow Christian, then the Bible has lost its real meaning and value for you. If Stephen had known what awaited him, I am sure he would have not engaged in that doctrinal argument.
Hear me, the Bible was written by humans just like us, but inspired by the Holy Spirit. It was copied, recopied and transferred from place to place over a long period of time in the course of which there were alterations, spelling errors and a bunch of unintended “human factor” in these texts. Apart from that, it was humans who compiled the particular texts from among the thousands of sacred texts available and called it the Bible. So to argue as though the Bible fell down from heaven is very wrong.
Stop trying to be right. Love others instead. Love will win more souls than attempting to change the doctrinal opinions of others. Preach against sin and evil not against another person’s church. You gain nothing when you go about condemning other people’s church as though you are Jesus Christ Himself. Realize that what you hold true right now may not be true ultimately. Once upon a time, people thought the world was flat and were ready to die in defence of this fact, but don’t we know better today?
Three: Pray and Work for Others Who Do Not Attend Your Church.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus did something really remarkable, He prayed for those “who believe in me through their word that they may all be one.” When last have I seen myself praying for other Christians? By praying for unity, Jesus used His position as the Son of God in favour of Christians. He prayed that just as He is united with God the Father in love, Christians may be united in love. Do I use my position and authority in the society to work for my fellow Christian?
Three years ago, I saw an article written by a Christian convert who analysed how Christians occupying high profile positions of power in this country are being wicked to their fellow Christians for refusing to bring their faith to bear in several key decisions. The article which has proven to be prophetic referred to such Christians as “useful idiots.” I find it thrilling to realize that the first official assignment of our President after being sworn in a second tenure was to attend the meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Countries, whereas you see Christians in power championing the doctrine of secularism, failing to build churches, failing to return schools to the missions, failing to allow Christ to influence key political decisions. I weep, I mourn for them.
Let it not be that you are simply in politics to enrich yourself. Stop acting as if you are ashamed of Jesus Christ your Lord and Saviour. In whatever capacity you find yourself, use your position to Christianize the nation and stop wailing about those trying to Islamize/’Fulanize’ it. If they succeed, your wealth and power will be useless. Our roads are no longer safe to travel because kidnappers have built permanent abodes in every creek and corner, yet we have Christians in power who are thinking only about themselves and their immediate family.
Four: The Holy Spirit is Coming Soon.
In today’s second reading John repeats the “I am coming soon.” We would benefit much from it if we read it in the context of our expectation of the Holy Spirit in a few days from now. This implies that we do what the reading says: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life.” Brothers and Sisters, this is the time to repent, this is the time to wash from impurities and attachment to sin and evil, this is the time for us go for confession, to awaken our prayer life, daily meditation and close communion with God.