In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles Paul and Barnabas preach to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia; this was one of their last stops together before they parted ways and Paul devoted his ministry to the Gentiles. In the early Church the divide between Jewish and Gentile Christians seen in Acts was strong at first but thankfully it faded over time. The unity that is at the heart of Christianity gradually healed the enmity between those who had converted to the faith from Jewish or Gentile backgrounds, and they all came to be identified simply as Christians.
We see a strong call to this sort of unity in faith in the words of the Psalmist: “We are his people, the sheep of his flock;” in today’s Gospel, where our Lord reminds us: “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me;” and in the Book of Revelation, where John of Patmos writes: “I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb.” All the scriptures we hear today thus underline the critical nature of unity within the Living Body of Christ which is the Church.
Sadly, we have still divisions in the Church today, falling largely along lines of liturgical preferences, or between “social justice Catholics” and “cultural conservatives,” or amidst those who introduce political partisanship into the Church. Often when we find ourselves arrayed intentionally or unintentionally against fellow Catholics we do not as much reject what the “other side” supports as we hold different priorities—fashioning our own preferences into essential elements of Catholicity in the self-assured world of our opinions.
In the Acts of the Apostles Saint Luke reminds his readers several times that it was the Spirit of God that knit together the early Church and sustained its members, whether Jew or Greek in origin (see, for example, Acts 2). Eventually the same Spirit led these parties to come closer together as the Church became clearly separate from the synagogue and the contemporary pagan culture. Elsewhere in the New Testament (Gal 3:28) Saint Paul sounds the same theme, reminding us that when it comes to our faith, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Today, if we focus more on our common faith in Christ and on the unity between the Father and the Son extolled by our Lord in the Gospel, we will see that there is no place for division among Christians: neither enmity against those who are different from us in belief, nor against our own fellow believers. Breathing in deeply the gift of the Holy Spirit in the days of the Easter season will prepare us to do our part in honoring the Spirit on the feast of Pentecost and in being instruments of the same Spirit as we work to become channels of unity in the Body of Christ.
In our passage from Acts Paul and Barnabas recall the words of the prophet Isaiah in exhorting the crowd in Antioch: “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47; Isa 49:6). We too have been given a share in the light of Christ and have a corresponding responsibility to let it shine to the ends of the earth.
Embracing this light, let us take today’s scriptures as our inspiration in turning away from sources of division and forging unity in their place, so that we can live up to our calling to imitate Christ, in whom all are made one.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.