I have become convinced after I first wrote during the summer that Christians in this town have a desire to see greater unity. Many people came up to me and spoke to me on how they appreciated that I was willing to broach the subject.
I repeat that I was just merely reflecting on Jesus expressed desire for visible unity in John 17, his words that our visible unity is a witness to the world of who he is, and how our failure in that vein makes the Body of Christ weak culturally and communally. I hope you do not mind as I’d like to continue the conversation.
Twelve days after Christmas — Jan. 6 — we remember the feast of the Epiphany. That is the event we know well from our Christmas books and pageants, the coming of the wisemen or Magi from the east to visit Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Upon reflecting on this event, I am again convinced we can learn from this in our approach to Christian unity. Please feel free to read the story in Matthew 2:1-12 to refresh your memory as I just wish to touch on context.
Matthew’s Gospel was written for Israelites, it is the only one of the four that is primarily written to tell the story of Jesus as the Messiah specifically for the Jewish people. In this Gospel we have the story of the Magi, who are Gentiles that come from the east (most likely Persia) and yet recognize the newborn Jesus as king. Jews and Gentiles had different beliefs, values, morals, family structures, priorities, styles of leadership, and ways of life. You name something and they approached it differently, but in this passage we see something foreshadowed that Matthew wants to make known to the Jews when it comes to Jesus and the Gentiles: He is their king too. The Magi were the first to recognize it.
In the early days of the church this conflict between Jew and Gentile was the primary one in the church. The questions: Is the church Jewish or is the church Gentile were discussed and debated until a decision was reached in 49 AD. It is neither, the church is the body of Christ, Jewish Christians will have to give on some things and Gentile Christians will have to give on some things because it is about Jesus as king. That means the church is about people coming together in mutual sacrificial love as opposed to the right ruling the wrong.
So many times in my conversations I meet people who say, “I look forward to unity when we can agree on x, y, and z.” This approach represents labor negotiation more than the self-sacrificing love Jesus exemplifies. The thought worth pondering as we think about those groups that “have it all wrong” is: He is their king too. Maybe we can start the discussion with our common acknowledgment of Jesus as king instead ourselves as the ones who are right? Perhaps this approach may bring more fruit than what we have had in the past.
The Rev. John Inserra is with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.