The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter celebrate our call to unity from diversity. All of us were created in the image of God, and from there we have our unity. Yet, we were created with diversity. These differences come from gender, nationality, ethnicity, education and personalities.
The readings demonstrate that we have far more in common than we have in differences. Have you ever thought, “If everybody were like me, I could get along with everybody!” Perhaps the greatest punishment God could give us is to have created another person exactly like us. This would be torture and our life would be a living hell. Where there is no diversity, there is no complementarity. Where there is no diversity, there is no room for growth. It would be a living hell. This is the theme of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.”
In the first reading, St. Paul is making his missionary travels. He comes upon a lot of diversity, but preaches a simple Gospel message: “Christ died to make us all one.”
Paul and Barnabas come to the city of Antioch. On the first Sabbath they were well received, and it seemed that the people were excited at what they heard.
The following week, almost the entire city turned out to hear what the apostles had to say. Apparently their message the first week was so popular that others came to hear them.
This success distressed some leaders. “When the Jews saw the crowds, they became very jealous and countered with violent abuse whatever Paul said.” Yet “Paul and Barnabas spoke out fearlessly: ‘The word of God has to be declared to you first of all; but since you reject it and thus convict yourselves as unworthy of everlasting life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this we were instructed by the Lord: ‘I have made you a light to the nations, a means of salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
This caused the Gentiles to be delighted and they responded to the message with praise. “All who were destined for life everlasting believed in it. Thus the word of the Lord was carried throughout that area.” The persecution of the apostles only enabled the Church to spread faster and further.
Eventually the Jewish leaders expelled Paul and Barnabas. What was the response of their disciples? “Their disciples knew only how to be filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”
Someone once remarked that the Acts of the Apostles should really be named: “The Comedy of the Holy Spirit.” The more the disciples of Jesus suffer for the sake of the name, the more they break out in joy, the theme of all evangelizers.
Did you ever think of this? If persecuted Christians became angry, bitter and retaliated against their persecutors, evangelization would have stopped immediately. The Holy Spirit empowers us to rejoice when we are opposed in our faith practices.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us: “My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life.” This eternal life isn’t something they first receive after they die. Those who believe in Jesus and live His teaching experience eternal life welling up within them. This is the source of their great joy and their power to witness to others.
Jesus says: “No one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father is greater than all, in what He has given me, and there is no snatching out of His hand.” Though created in diversity, we’re all called to be one through the teachings of Jesus.
This brings us to a depiction of our final destination in heaven. In the selection from the Book of Revelation, John describes a vision he has of heaven with countless people “from every nation and race, people and tongue. They stood before the Lamb. …These are the ones who have survived the great period of trial; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. …Never again shall they know hunger or thirst…for the Lamb on the throne will shepherd them.”
These are the ones who became one through the teachings of Jesus. They are now one with Jesus and one with the Father.
If you want to see today’s diversity of people, take a look at those who populate the evening news; are there some you would rather not see there? If so, you may find yourself also excluded.
How can all of these people ever become one? The answer is simple. God’s love and mercy are greater than all of mankind’s sins. Now, let us look at where the rubber meets the road. Who is the person or who are the people in your life who simply rub you the wrong way? Do you believe that God’s word is powerful enough to change your heart and their hearts to make you one?
There is no better time than now to make that to begin to happen. Why not begin today to read a few verses of Scripture daily. Allow the word of God to give you some discomfort that will lead you to seek God’s help. As you become more and more one with God’s word and God, you will find that you have no problems with others. We can’t change ourselves, but God’s word “is more powerful than a two-edged sword.” As we read that word slowly, we find peace emerging in our hearts.