SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – YEAR C
The resignation this week of Prime Minister Theresa May, precipitated by her inability to reach an agreement on Brexit, is the most recent example of conflict and polarization on the world stage. In her news conference on Friday, Ms. May wished her successor well, but cautioned, “To succeed, he or she will have to find consensus in Parliament where I have not. Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise.” The difficulty of which Ms. May speaks is not limited to Britain, or even to the political sphere, it affects our life as a Church as well. How do we move forward when there is increasing intransigence on all sides?
Providentially, the liturgy for this Sixth Sunday in Easter, the Sunday before the Ascension Feast, offers us some timely thoughts about conflict management and effective decision making. It poses a tested strategy for moving forward when we feel trapped in a deadlock like the one griping Britain at the present moment. The Scripture passages open with a conflict situation described in the Acts of the Apostles and move toward the peace promised by Jesus in the Gospel; and they show us how to get to a better place, to use a current idiom.
Almost the first conflict in the infant Church had to do with how to integrate non-Jewish converts into the Christian community. James and many Jewish believers argued that every male must undergo circumcision and every convert must observe the Torah in every respect, including keeping kosher. Paul, and his fellow missionaries, argued that the only requirement for Baptism should be faith in the Risen Jesus as Son of God and Savior. Today, we hear the resolution, the compromised agreed upon by all parties to the dispute. It is simple, sensible, and effective.
We do not hear today how that compromise was reached, but I will fill you in. Paul and James argued their respective positions in the presence of the entire Jerusalem church; and – this vital – they listened to one another with openness and respect and a willingness to change their minds, at least partially. Peter had his say, as well, relating his experience with the Gentile Cornelius. And Peter could argue from the Jewish Scriptures so persuasively that even James – again listening to the speech – was convinced. In the end, the consensus was so universal that the message sent to the Gentile converts was, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…”
Secondly today, the passage from the Book of Revelation cautions us that we can solve our conflicts only if we refuse to lose sight of the bigger picture. Much more is at stake than whether all Christians will shop only in the Kosher section of the supermarket and buy poultry at Halal butchers, or whether a wall is built along the southern border of the United States. That is not to say that those are serious issues that must be decided. But it is to say that, in the long run, what is at stake is our ability to coexist with one another peacefully and creatively. God promises us citizenship in the holy city Jerusalem that has no need of a temple – or the sun and moon, for that matter. What it absolutely requires is peace, peace of the sort that the apostles and elders hammered out long ago in the earthly Jerusalem, the peace that Theresa May talked about on Friday: it is the consensus that is the fruit of intelligent and civilized conversation.
That conversation moves forward most fruitfully where there is trust in the Holy Spirit. Jesus warned the apostles at the Last Supper about the danger of thinking that any one of them or any group knew it all. “I still have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now… The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I told you. For us people of faith, there is the added conviction that we can trust in divine guidance. “You have heard me tell you, ’I am going away and I will come back to you.’”
There it is: the road to peace. Listen attentively and respectfully with an open mind and a willingness to change. Keep a hold on the bigger picture. Be docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit while trusting in Jesus’ on-going presence. Now the question is, are we prepared to walk that road?