“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.” (John 17:20-21)
As we prepare to receive the Holy Spirit next Sunday, our readings today focus on unity. When we look deeper into this concept of unity, we discover it is like a tree that has several branches. These branches are 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 (just as Stephen did in today’s first reading).
Apart from encouraging us to be united, our readings today spell out the dangers of disunity by presenting the story of Stephen who was killed because he engaged in an argument over matters of doctrine and faith. Last Sunday, we read how the issue of circumcision brought a debate in the church at Antioch between Paul and the men who had come from Judea. Unfortunately, one of the principal sources of disunity among Christians today is arguments over matters of doctrine.
In his prayer for unity, Jesus said: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21) Disunity among Christians is truly a scandal to non-Christians. One may wonder: Why is it that all Christians are using the same bible yet they never agree among themselves? Let us now reflect on the lessons contained in today’s readings:
1. Learn to Celebrate One Another’s Gifts
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, we have fallen into the pit of disunity.
Even though Stephen was ordained to serve at tables, he had some special gifts. He could work miracles and he knew the scriptures very well. Some men from the synagogue of Freedmen, from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen but they could not withstand his superior wisdom because the Holy Spirit gave him utterance. The men became envious and they secretly instigated men to lie against Stephen saying: “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
Watch out for envy in your heart. Ask yourself: “Are there certain people I don’t like just because they are good at what they do?” Celebrate the gifts of others. Avoid developing hatred for someone just because they do not attend the same church or hold the same doctrines you do. They may interpret the Bible differently but this does not necessarily mean your interpretation is superior.
2. Stop Trying to Win Arguments, Win Souls Instead
I always feel sad when I see two Christians arguing over matters of doctrine and faith. Oftentimes, what fuels such argument is not the desire to know more about God but pride. The most important message of Jesus is to love your neighbour as yourself. If in the name of argument over doctrinal issues, we now hate members of other churches, it means we have failed completely and we no longer deserve the name, Christian.
Examine your heart. Am I trying to win this argument by all means? What benefit would my argument be if I end up losing a friend? You gain nothing when you go about condemning other people’s churches. Even if you believe that someone is going to hell just because of the church they attend, treat him or her as a brother first before attempting to pull them out of their church.
3. 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 did I pray for other Christians? Jesus prayed that just as He is united with God the Father in love, Christians may be united in love. Once upon a time, Jesus’ disciples reported how they saw a man who was performing signs and wonders in His name but this man was not a member of the college of apostles. They told Jesus how they tried to stop the man but Jesus replied: “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:39-40)
As a Christian politician, make the best use of your position to promote the cause of Christianity. Be like Esther who used her position as queen of Israel for the entire Jewish nation. It should never be about your denomination only or your tribe. History has shown us that disunity among Christians in our country is our greatest undoing.
4. 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 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 to go for confession, to awaken our prayer life, daily meditation, and close communion with God.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, use me as your instrument of unity. Amen.
Bible Study: Acts 7:55-60, Ps. 97:1-2,6-7,9, Rev. 22:12-14,16-17,20, John 17:20-26)
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu