The history of salvation for the Hebrew people led them to believe that not only did God rescue them from slavery, but also that God's action was restricted to their people.
The belief that the Jews were unique in God's eyes was whittled away, however, by the prophets, especially Isaiah, and indeed by their own story. When Jesus came into their midst, he left the message that salvation was for all the peoples of the earth.
Chapter 9 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church focuses on the international community. The chapter begins with a brief section on the biblical testimony to the unity of humanity.
Creation itself testifies to this unity. God's decision to make the human person in his image and likeness "gives the human being a unique dignity that extends to all generations and throughout the entire earth" (n. 428).
Although humanity again and again turned against God, God remained faithful. After the great flood, God offered a covenant to Noah maintaining our stewardship over creation and the dignity of human life. God took pleasure in the diverse peoples that sprang from Noah's seed.
Despite their diversity, all peoples spoke the same language. But the people came to see themselves as equal to God and attempted to build a tower that extended to heaven. By turning its back on the Creator, humanity became divided.
God's covenant with Abraham, who was to father a multitude of nations, opened the door for humanity to return to a right relationship with God. While the Israelites believed their relationship with God was exclusive, Isaiah chipped away at that notion.
The prophet spoke of all nations streaming to the mountain of the Temple of the Lord. They would ask God to teach them his ways and he would have authority over all nations. "Nation will not lift sword against nation; there will be no more training for war" (2:4).
In chapter 19, Isaiah spoke of God seeing the Egyptians and the Assyrians, as well as the Israelites, as his people. The saviour would be sent to Egypt to protect and deliver the Egyptians.
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Then, God tells his suffering servant, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (49:6).
The extent to which such proclamations penetrated the awareness of the Hebrews is perhaps open to question. But the New Testament is unequivocal about Jesus Christ being the source of the unity of the human family.
In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus at first seems to see his mission as limited. He tells the Canaanite woman, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (15:24).
When he sent out the apostles to preach and heal, he told them "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (10:5-6).
But Jesus also says that, at the last judgment, "all the nations will be assembled" before the Son of Man. And after the resurrection, he expands the apostles' mission: "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations."
At Pentecost, the resurrection is announced to diverse peoples and the Church begins its ministry of restoring the unity lost at Babel.
When St. Paul wrote to the Greeks at Ephesus, he noted that while they "were excluded from membership of Israel, . . . in Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far apart from us have been brought very close, by the blood of Christ" (2:12-13).
And he told the Galatians that through Baptism, they had become children of Abraham: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise" (3:28-29).
Over the centuries, the Church has blessed and enhanced local and national cultures. Yet a central part of the Christian mission is to build unity and harmony among all peoples. There is no contradiction.
Unity is to be built, not by coercion and violence, but by the free cooperation of the peoples.
One God in three persons is the supreme model of this unity. Thus, the Church has an indispensable role in working for communion among all peoples of the earth.