The first reading of this Sixth Sunday of Easter, year C, (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29) brings to light the difficulty involved in bringing diverse peoples to worship together without letting ethnic uniqueness breed division and chaos. As could be seen in our passage, the Gentile converts to Christianity were being told, by some Jewish converts, that they had to become Jewish in tradition and rituals in order to be accepted into the household of the redeemed. Jews and Gentiles have so little in common: different histories, traditions, practices, customs, cultures, and languages. This is no different from the United Nations that is our parish; a mixture of Caucasians, Filipinos, Africans, Indians, Haitians, Hispanics, etc. The challenge, for the early Church, as it is for us today, is how to take such dissimilar groups and make them one in the vineyard of the Lord?
One solution is to believe that it is impossible and thereby to just leave the groups to segregate, isolate, and separate, overtly tolerating each other with bigoted suspicion while covertly disdaining each other with ignominy. This solution, as we must all know profoundly and in negative ways affects the effectiveness of Christianity and its attractiveness, creating, as it were, a snobbery and judgmental atmosphere that betrays the prayer of Jesus, “That they may all be one”.
Another solution is to force everybody into one mode, as was the case in our reading—requiring Gentiles to become Jewish in culture and tradition, in order to become Christians. Thank God, the apostles and the early Church leaders knew better. Unity in the Lord is not about uniformity; it is unity in diversity; “Unity in faith and diversity in celebration”; the Trinity of three distinct persons in One Godhead.
The other solution is to submit our prejudices, our presuppositions, and our diversity to the greater purposes of God by loving, understanding, and accepting others in the one Lord, Jesus Christ. As believers, it is the will of God for us that we humble ourselves, learn from one another, and celebrate, not tolerate, each other. Nothing gives greater glory to God and provides a more compelling witness to our faith than when we, as a diverse community—different races, ethnic backgrounds, and social strata—come together, in faith and love, to worship and honor our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each one of us is only but a different manifestation and expansion of the Supreme Godhead. Together, we will stand and survive!
So, we must find ways to integrate our differences and turn our diversity into strength. That means that we cannot, because of our diversity, be separated in interest or divided in purpose. We must stand together in the pursuit of our parish goals and vision because, as the saying goes, “The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”. The truth is that even the weak become strong when we are united. So let us find the good, seek unity, and ignore any attempts at divisions among us. Our diversity is not a call to segregation but an invitation to congregation, greatness, and togetherness. May God give us the grace to see the strength in others and celebrate our diversity, Amen!