Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ephesians 2:14-19

For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh . . . that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross . . . for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God . . . (Ephesians 2:14-19).

One of the points St. Paul makes repeatedly in this letter to the Ephesians is that of God's design for unity among separate -- and sometimes disparate -- groups. In this case, Jews and Gentiles, but in a larger sense, among all peoples for whom Christ died. Indeed, one of the final prayers of Jesus recorded in Scripture is for unity:

"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me" (St. John 17:21-23, my emphasis in bold).


How are non-believers to know God really exists, and that He sent Jesus into our world as a love offering, if those who know better don't act better?

Many years ago I was a student at an Assemblies of God college. A Baptist Bible college was also in the same town. One day after I had recently arrived in town for the start of classes, I went into a local pharmacy to pick up a prescription. During the friendly chit-chat with the pharmacist, he asked how long I had been attending the Baptist college. When I told him I was a student at the Assemblies of God college, his face turned red and, with sincere regret, apologized for assuming I was a Baptist.

And so, I was introduced to the schism between the two groups, a schism that had spilled over to the community. What kind of reputation do you think Christians had among the many residents in that town?

In my view, things are no different between Protestants and Catholics in many communities in America. My wife (who is Protestant) and I (Catholic) have first-hand experience with snide comments, and sometimes vitriol of both groups toward the other.

These things ought not to be this way.

The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Psalmist, said: Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron's [the high priest during the days of Moses] beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes (Psalm 133).

The Lord Jesus said: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (St. John 13:34-36, bold is my emphasis).

As we have seen in earlier lessons, Jews and Gentiles in the first century had little to do with each other. For the most part, each group did their best to avoid contact with the other.

But God wanted to reconcile both groups as one body to Himself. And that is one reason Jesus died.

Were there differences of theological perspectives between the groups? Of course. But were those differences insurmountable? Of course not. The gospel message, presented with love and with a unified voice can change the course of cultures and the span of history.

Are there differences of theological perspectives today between Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox? Of course. But are they insurmountable?

I suppose that depends on how serious we are in bringing God's desire for unity to fruition. Surely, if we really take the time to listen to one another, and dialogue with one another, and pray sincerely for one another -- and not insist that unity means interpreting Scripture only my way --the Holy Spirit will enable us to see the common thread among us. That common thread is Christ crucified for our sins, resurrected for our justification, and soon returning for His bride.

Yes, how good and pleasant it will be when brothers and sisters in Christ dwell together in unity.

Questions for Reflection:

1. Read this passage. How might St. Paul's comment apply to this lesson? How might it direct the way you interact with people who don't agree with your understanding of Scripture?

2. What do you think of the message in this passage from the prophet Amos? How might it apply to our work toward unity?

No comments: