BUILDING UNITY IN CHRIST
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Philippians 2:1-4; Luke 14:12-14 ]
The world is very much divided between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the elite and the ordinary. This was never the intention of God. He created a world where we could all live and support each other as one big family. Indeed, in the eyes of God, we are all equal before Him. We are all His children, the rich no less than the poor, the strong no less than the weak. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Mt 5:44f)
In the gospel, Jesus sought to abolish all class consciousness. He taught that it was not good enough to invite those people who were of our same social standing or expect that we would be invited back in future. Rather, the Lord said, “when you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.” In the eyes of God, it is the poor, the hungry and the marginalized that the Lord feels most for, because they are deprived and stripped of their basic needs in life. This is why the Lord said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40)
Indeed, Christ Himself taught the disciples what it meant to be a leader. “It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28) A leader is a servant and not so much a position of honour. Jesus Himself who took the form of a servant to wash the feet of His disciples just before His passion reminded them, “You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:13-17)
St Paul also reiterates our unity in Christ when he says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27f) Indeed, Christ by His death on the cross has brought us together as one. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Eph 2:13f)
After Pentecost, the early Church for a short time tried to relive this kind of community. They sought to be true to the teaching of Christ. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47) Indeed, Christ taught us to treat everyone equally, irrespective of social rank; and more so those who are the weakest members of the community. (cf 1 Cor 12:22-24)
Why is there this division among us, even amongst Christians? It is because of selfishness and pride that man seeks to protect his interests over the others. Even in the Christian community, we have class consciousness. We want to differentiate ourselves from the other members of the community. When we do that, we are not living the gospel values. St James reprimanded the early Christians for making distinctions and showing favouritism to those who were richer. He wrote, “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” (cf Jms 2:1-5)
Indeed, we must be careful that we do not import the values of the world into our churches. What the Church should boast about is not that we care for the rich and give special preference to them but rather that we are known to be lovers of the poor, the suffering and the marginalized. This is the best form of Christian witnessing, more than just proclaiming and preaching the gospel of love. This is what the Lord teaches us in the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Mt 5:3-7)
St Paul also warned the early Christians about dividing the Church through pride, leading to competition. He exhorted them saying, “There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead.” How often have we witnessed the Church divided among her members because various church organizations try to prove themselves to be more important than others, that they can sing better than the others, and that their roles and functions are greater than the rest. Likewise, within the Church, we have members seeking recognition, power, control, prominence, and positions. It is all about themselves and not truly for the glory of God or for the service of the community.
So the key to overcoming selfishness and pride that divide the community is through self-emptying and humility. Jesus led the way as St Paul wrote in the next chapter of Philippians. Christ chose to empty Himself of His divinity. As if it were not enough, He emptied himself, “taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7f) Christ suffered the lowest form of human rejection by being crucified as a criminal on the cross. Consequently, St Paul appealed to us all, “If our life in Christ means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy, then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind.”
We all must put on the mind and heart of Christ in service and in love. We must do it out of love for Christ. Instead of putting ourselves above others, we must put others before self. Instead of competing and become self-conceited, we must learn to be self-effacing like our Lord. Humility is the mark of Christian service. With the psalmist, we must recognize our limitations and constraints. “Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord. O Lord, my heart is not proud nor haughty my eyes. I have not gone after things too great nor marvels beyond me. Truly I have set my soul in silence and peace. A weaned child on its mother’s breast, even so is my soul.” In this way, we can say we share the same Spirit of Christ and are united in one common mission and in love.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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