In the first reading, we read how Paul used a tactical move to further his mission in proclaiming the Good News. He seized the opportunity when he was brought to trial before the Sanhedrin. He himself was a Pharisee and so he knew that the Sanhedrin, which comprised both the Pharisees and the Sadducees from the Priestly Class, were not in agreement with regard to certain aspects of their doctrines. Thus he began with his statement on the doctrine of the resurrection. “He called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisees and the son of Pharisees. It is for our hope in the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.’ As soon as he said this a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was split between the two parties.” It was significant that Paul identified himself as a Pharisee and a believer of the doctrine of the resurrection.
As a consequence, right from the outset, the council was divided. “As soon as he said this a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was split between the two parties. For the Sadducees say there is neither resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, while the Pharisees accept all three. The shouting grew louder, and some of the scribes from the Pharisees’ party stood up and protested strongly, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man. Suppose a spirit has spoken to him, or an angel?’”
Indeed, in the gospel, Jesus had reminded us of the importance of unity in mission. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” (Mt 12:25) Consequently, “how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered.” (Mt 12:29) Jesus is that strong man who can help us to overcome our enemies. For this reason, in the gospel, Jesus prayed for unity among His disciples just before He died. “Holy Father, I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”
Unity is necessary in mission, especially in times of opposition and difficulties. Many of us are weak in our faith, and in the face of personal trials and opposition in our ministry and work we give up easily due to discouragement and suffering. However, if we have fellow brothers and sisters supporting us, we will be willing to face the challenges ahead of us. What we need is encouragement and support from each other. It is sad to see that in our churches, organizations and ministries, priests, religious and laity are fighting with each other and among themselves, discrediting each other. Worse still, at times washing dirty linen in public. By exposing the weakness of the Church to enemies from without, we only make the Church more vulnerable to those who wish to destroy the Church.
However, unity in mission is not just for solidarity, but it is a sign that we are children of God and members of the One Family of God, even without our proclaiming it. Jesus said, “I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one.” By our oneness, we share in the oneness of the Father and the Son. Our unity is not just a sociological unity but a unity based on our insertion into the life of the Holy Trinity. The glory of God that has been revealed to us in Christ is that the Father and the Son are one in everything and in being in the Holy Spirit. Christ has come to share His glory with us, which is to be loved in the same way the Father has loved Him. He said, “I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me.”
How then can we ensure that this unity is kept and strengthened among ourselves? The reality is that our churches, both within and without, are so divided. This thought alone should sadden us because we can imagine how sad our Lord is when He sees His church so divided. Although all Catholics and Protestants Christians proclaim the gospel of love and unity, yet we are much divided in doctrines and worse still, sometimes we behave polemically towards each other.
To preserve unity, we must first maintain unity with the Lord. Union with Christ is the foundation of unity among all peoples. When we have a common love for the Lord and are united in Him, we will, for His sake, endeavor to love each other as much as He loves us. We will not do anything to hurt our Lord. So growing in unity with Christ, heart, mind and body is the first step towards unity among ourselves. Only when we share the same mind and heart of Christ, can we move closer to agreement in doctrines and practices. It is therefore important that Christians base their unity not just in the scriptures but also in deep intimacy with the Lord.
Secondly, unity is strengthened when we work for the common good and greater good of the Church. One of the main reasons for disunity is because everyone wants to be the head of every organization. They want to assume the responsibility of those who are in charge. And so they demand that everyone must listen to them. When we are opinionated we cause division wherever we are. No matter how great or wise our opinion is, we must be humble enough to submit our opinions to the larger group of people or whoever is in charge because they have been tasked to assume the responsibility of the organization. When we all want to insist on our ways of doing things, we create division.
Ironically, even our enemies would set aside their differences in theological divide when it comes to practical consideration of their power and privileges. For we read that after the Sanhedrin meeting was broken up, “In the morning the Jews joined in a conspiracy and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who joined in this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, ‘We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food until we have killed Paul.’” (Acts 23:12-14) What about us? Should we not, for the sake of the greater good of the Church, sacrifice our personal interests and opinions? Do we want to continue to divide the Church and at the end of the day, lose our credibility?
Thirdly, unity is possible only in fervent and sincere prayers. When we pray, we express our desire and work towards that goal with the grace of God. Even Jesus Himself prayed for unity because He knew very well that unity is not simply the result of dialogue and consultation and argument. Rather, it is the outcome of the wisdom and love of the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts and minds of everyone. Jesus promised us, “If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Mt 18:19f) Only when we are in union with Christ and with each other, will our prayers be answered.
So let us follow Paul in making Christ known to the world. He lived in intimacy with the Lord and with His fellow Christians. It was this communion with the Lord and with His people that gave Him the strength of ministry. He used every occasion to proclaim the Lord even in persecution. Instead of feeling discouraged and resentful of Christ because of his persecution, he used such opposition as opportunities to proclaim the gospel. He was receptive to the Holy Spirit who invited him to use this opportunity of persecution to proclaim Christ in Rome. “Next night, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Courage! You have borne witness for me in Jerusalem, now you must do the same in Rome.’” Let the prayer of Jesus be earnestly ours as well, “I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.”