FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 26, 2020:
Each year, the Church invites us into a special week of prayer called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is a time for all Christians of our various denominations to pray that one day we may find our way back to one another and make true Jesus desire as articulated in John’s Gospel, “That all may be one.” The week of prayer comes to its conclusion today, but its theme, I think, is one that is more needed in our country and in our world than ever before. We are a people who hunger for unity. And the challenges we face every day, it seems, are challenges that highlight our extreme disunity.
As we know, we are a people who are profoundly polarized at this moment in our history – and it is a polarization that effects our politics, our faith, our family lives, and virtually all aspects of our society.
Without diving into those fraught political waters, I think that we, as people of faith, can be the leaven that our society needs to find civility and unity even in the midst of disagreement. As JFK said in his famous inaugural speech, “Let us begin a new – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness.”
A few years ago, I came across an essay by Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite in the Washington Post. Commenting on the divisions in our world, she made the simple but profound point that there is a missed lessons that we tend to overlook – the lesson is that we are actually all in this together. In other words, we are connected - what happens in Tokyo affects what happens in Paris and London and New York. What happens in one part of the world can affect the day-to-day life of someone a world away.
Reverend Thistlewaite also looked back at another moment in history when we were all united despite a tremendous crisis, The Great Depression. She looked at another famous inaugural address, that of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. This is the one that gave us the quote, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” But, listen to what else FDR said, “The measure of our restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.” Roosevelt reminded us that there was something greater than the economy binding us together. And we came out of The Great Depression primarily because America came to realize that were all in it together – with a shared sense of community and common purpose.
As we gather today, we find ourselves praying in a particular way for a similar sense of community and common purpose; praying for that unity that we all hunger for. And our Scriptures today speak to this. In the second reading, St. Paul cries out for unity among the people of Corinth. It was another moment in time when people – the early Church – were united by a crisis, and were struggling to survive. “Is Christ divided?” he asks. “I urge you …that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
And when we come to Matthew’s Gospel today we are struck by the way in which Christ Himself went about building the first Christian community. He walked along the sea one day, and called first one set of brothers, and then another. He called them two by two. Brother with brother. In other words, from the very beginning, the message was clear: being church is not a solitary endeavor. Remember that the next time someone asks you why you go to church. “Can’t I just pray on my own?” Christ built a community; a family; living, working, praying – together.
As Matthew tells us, Christ’s Church would be made up of people who didn’t work alone. They were fishermen, after all, casting large nets into the sea. We live here in a commercial fishing area, so we know that it takes more than one person to haul in a big catch. You need help. I think that’s one reason why Jesus chose His apostles from that particular line of work. They had stamina. They had strength. And they knew how to work together. The great work they would undertake would demand collaboration and compromise. There is a lesson here, I think, for all of us, as we pray for unity.
Some scripture scholars believe there may have been rivalry and tension between the followers of John the Baptist and those who would follow Jesus. You’ll notice that when Jesus begins His ministry, He uses the very same words as John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He isn’t trying to compete with the Baptist. Rather, He is continuing the work that John began – and enlarging and amplifying it. It’s a powerful example for all of us seeking to enlarge and amplify the Gospel and bring it into the world. And we should never forget that what unites us is greater than what divides us. As Paul put it, Christ is not divided – and we are His Body.
The last few years have reminded us that our world is smaller than ever. The global economy means all of us are inextricably linked, for better or for worse. Let us not simply mimic the division dictated daily to us by our world; but let us be what breaks that chain, breaks that cycle – let us become the very leaven that lifts our world out of its division and bring it back into unity. Now, more than ever, we need to bear with one another, listen to one another, hope with one another, and uplift one another -- as residents of the world, and as members of the Body of Christ
We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Ask not what Christ can do for you; ask what you can do for Christ. And together, bound by a common purpose, we can achieve great things, no matter what our differences and difficulties. To use a metaphor the first apostles would understand: the sea may at times be rough. But we’re all in the same boat.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters…that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” Let us amplify and magnify that message for all our world to hear.
May the Lord give you peace.