“The Only Thing That Can Overcome Division”
May 29, 2022
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. ***
This weekly installment almost didn’t happen. The tragedy of dead school children and teachers in Uvalde, TX on top of the mass shooting in Buffalo converged to conspire against any inspiration to write. I could barely pray for the millions of people whose lives have been upended and ended. Once again, I imagined the grief. The despair. The anger and confusion. The lives of survivors that will never be the same. And after having prayed time again over the past 20 years for victims of evil men with assault rifles who kill children, Black people, Jews and others, I have run out of post-massacre prayers. It seemed this week that it was time for a break, from writing and praying. Then I read the assigned Gospel for today.
Jesus is praying to his Father. It is the evening of His last meal with his disciples where he washes their feet, gives them a new commandment to love as he loves, and told them of his leaving. Now he prays. In this reading we overhear a portion of the prayer.
Notice Jesus prays for us. That’s a relief. Three times he asks God that we would all become one as He and the Father are one. On this front, I’m a little jaded to imagine that unity in this country right now.
If Jesus is praying for our oneness, then he is also recognizing and rejecting the differences that divide us.
So many divisions exist within us, our families, our churches, our nation. We live in a world full of divisions — male or female; rich or poor; gay or straight; black or white; Christian or Muslim; conservative or liberal; educated or uneducated; young or old; heaven or earth; divine or human; sinner or saved; orthodox or heretic. We could go on and on listing the boundaries that we encounter and all too often establish or promote. They are not just divisions. They have become oppositions.
David Brooks of the New York Times wrote on Friday: “Social scientists have shown in one experiment after another, it is verry easy to get people to divide people into in-groups and out-groups. Simply spread a tacit ideology that says something such as women are less important than men or Black people are less important that white people.”
These divisions exist in the world but primarily and first in the human heart. We project onto the world our fragmented lives.
For every line and division we establish there is a human being. Boundaries and differences are not about issues. They are about real people, with names, lives, joys, sorrows, concerns, and needs just like us. I think we sometimes forget or ignore this. It is easier to deal with an issue than a real person.
Whether or not we admit it the boundaries we establish and enforce are usually done in such a way as to favor us; to make us feel ok, to reassure us that we are right and in control, chosen and desired, seen and recognized, approved of and accepted. The prevalence of thought is that in order for me to win someone must lose, in order for me to be included someone must be excluded otherwise winning and being included mean nothing. The divisions of our lives in some way become self-perpetuating.
We often deal with the boundaries and differences that divide us by writing agreements, covenants, treaties, and legislation that govern how we will get along with each other and behave in the midst of our differences. But that is not Jesus’ prayer.
What Jesus does not pray for is our tolerance, our getting along, or just being nice to each other. He does not pray that our differences would be eliminated. Rather, he prays for our oneness. He prays that we would be one as he and the Father are one so that our oneness would be the revelation of God’s presence to the world. “Oneness in the midst of differences becomes a sacramental presence of God’s life in the world” is how Episcopalian priest and writer Mike Marsh puts it.
However, that does not mean that we lose our identity or individuality. Jesus does not stop being Jesus and the Father stop being the Father because they are one. Oneness is less about numbers and quantity and more qualitative. Jesus and the Father are one because they love and give themselves to each other. Oneness is a quality of life — God’s life. Jesus’ prayer for oneness is ultimately that we would be and live like God.
Oneness is not about eliminating differences. It is about love. Love is the only thing that can ever overcome division. Over and over Jesus tells us that.
Love your enemy.
Our love for God, neighbor, self, and enemy reveals our oneness, and the measure of our oneness, our God-likeness, is love. In love there may be differences, but there is no division.
God’s love knows no boundaries. God loves male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight, Hispanic, African and Anglo. God loves Christian and Muslim, conservative and liberal, educated and uneducated. God loves young and old, heaven and earth, divine and human. God loves sinner and saved, orthodox and heretic. All are loved fully, completely, and uniquely as each needs.
God does not even draw boundaries between Jesus and us. If we think God loves Jesus more than anyone else, we have missed the point of the Gospel. God loves you the same as God loves Jesus. God loves your neighbor the same as God loves Jesus. God loves your enemy the same as God loves Jesus. If that is how God loves how can we do anything less and still call ourselves Christians?
For far too long we have dealt with each other through our boundaries, differences, and divisions. Look around and see where that has gotten us. You need only pay scant attention to news in the world to see the dire state of the human family. When we deal with others through our divisions then it is that we label others, do violence, and hunker down to defend our position. There is no oneness in that.
Though Jesus is praying to the Father for us, we will in large part be the ones to answer Jesus’ prayer. We answer the prayer every time we choose how to love, who to love, where to love.
It is time we answer Jesus’ prayer and deal with one another in love. In attitude and action. So, I wonder, who are at the boundaries of your love?