March 23, 2009
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Baptism has brought us into a new community, a community that has left all factions and human divisions behind, a community where we are in the process of being transformed into God himself.
St. Paul, says Scripture scholar Charles Cousar, has expounded "an amazing egalitarianism." Moreover, this equal society is not something we will have to wait to see in heaven. It is meant to be present now, in our midst.
If the surrounding culture is characterized by warring factions, strife, double-dealing, exploitation and covetousness, then the community of the followers of Jesus should be something different. This new community is conformed, not to the world, but to the will of God, to "what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12.2).
Human beings have an uncanny ability to create divisions among ourselves, to set my group up above your group, to find little ways to make me superior to you. We give some forms of that one-upmanship names like racism and sexism.
St. Paul challenges those nasty "isms." But he knows that the human propensity to create divisions is more subtle than crude stereotypes. He sees it creeping into the Christian community when some say "I am for Apollos" and others boast, "I am for Paul."
He urged the Colossians, "Put to death what in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness" (3.5). The list goes on – "anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk from your mouth" (3.8).
All these vices create hostility and division in the community. They turn people against one another and they nurture factionalism where there should be unity. God's will is that factions be put to death. Despite that, the new community of God is imitating the ways of the world.
You've probably seen it. People start a new group with high ideals and the best of intentions. It doesn't take long, however, for some to start talking behind the backs of others, to seek to impose their will on the group and to wrest special privileges for themselves.
Paul is clear. There must be none of this in the Christian community because "Christ is all, and in all" (3.11).
SEE CHRIST IN OTHERS
Imagine that! Imagine if we all strive hard to at all times see Christ in others, especially in those with whom we are less at ease.
Imagine if we approach them trying to see the obstacles they face instead of trying to impose our will on them. What a change that would make!
"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.
"Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive each other.
"Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. . . . And be thankful. . . .
"With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (3.12-17).
Kindness, humility, forgiveness, gratitude – those are hallmarks for equality and harmony in community.
It sounds simple.
MAKE BAPTISM REAL
Why can't we do more of it? If we did, it would go a long way toward ending division in any community. It would go a long way toward making Baptism real.
"Is Christ divided?" St. Paul asked the Corinthians.
Of course not. Christ is one and he is in all those who have been baptized into him. Baptized into his death, actually. A death that was the ultimate act of self-giving. A death beside which our petty jealousies and one-upmanships look pathetic.
Such self-giving may look weak to a world that values the "strength" of today over the glory of the final resurrection. "For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength" (1 Corinthians 1.25).
Baptism gave us entry into the new community. Why can we not put self-interest aside in order to allow that new community to be what it is called to be?