UNITED DESPITE DIVERSITY
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
4th Sunday of Easter(C)
April 25, 2010
Diversity is a fact of earthly life. The whole ecological system around which life on planet earth revolves, is based on healthy diversity. Without diversity and natural differences, the world would be a drab, dreary, uninteresting, and monotonous place. Why, a symphony would never merit being called as such if there were only one musical instrument playing one single melodic line in perfect unison and colorless uniformity!
As is true for everything in this world, there is merit in diversity. There is beauty in a healthy mélange of different attributes, traits, and textures. This is also where the beauty of what we believers refer to as the Church lies. This is the foundation of the glorious splendor of the multi-faceted mosaic that is the Church made up of different peoples, races, colors, and nations.
This is the beauty of the “miraculous catch of 153 fishes” of last week’s gospel – the miracle done by the Master Fisherman who called his fellow fishermen to the ministry of catching more than just fishes in a relatively small lake that was the “sea of Galilee.” 153 fishes were just about as many species as one could get from that small body of water. But the meaning was not to be found in the absolute number, but in what that small number stood for – the diversity and the relative abundance of the catch compared to the all-night futile effort the men put into their fish-catching expedition.
The Risen Lord was doing a “show-and-tell” about what sort of mission lay in the offing for these erstwhile fishermen who would soon graduate to a much higher level of ministry for the sake of a society represented by those 153 fishes. Christ was not only showing them what it would take to advance the mission of catching people from then on. He was building them into a unified body of believers. He was forming unity despite the diversity of characters that made up the original band of 12 close-in followers.
Although not part of the original twelve, and definitely different both in personality and style of evangelization from the twelve, Paul and Barnabas carried the torch of unity in diversity forward. Preaching in Antioch, as “the whole city gathered to hear the world of the Lord,” certain people “contradicted what Paul said.” No, diversity was not the culprit here, but jealousy. The jealous contradiction that came from Jewish leaders became a motivation for the dynamic tandem to “turn to the gentiles,” who “were delighted when they heard this, and glorified the word of the Lord.”
The incipient Church was growing in diversity. “All who were destined to eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.” In our time, although we pay lip service to diversity, there is still a whole lot of prejudice and bias against those who are different in any way. The whole pop culture makes a virtue of conformity, and frowns on those who stick out like sore thumbs in a society that has to act and behave in exactly the same socially prescribed, though unwritten way. Those who behave differently are ostracized and removed from the scene, much like people would automatically kill dandelions in what should at all cost appear as a perfect, all-green lawn. It is funny how young people, in their attempt to be different from the adult world, end up dressing alike in many ways!
Not funny, but no less true, is the sad situation of religious intolerance in many places in the world, even to the point of fanatics giving a religious justification to committing heinous and horrific crimes against innocent people, with a growing number finding virtue in killing in the name of God! The Christianity that the Risen Christ has come back from the dead for to establish and strengthen cannot, and ought never be aligned with such intolerant attitudes.
All three readings today speak, not of exclusivity, but of inclusivity. All three remind us of the call to universality, to unity, despite the gross diversity between and amongst all peoples. The second reading speaks of a “great multitude … from every nation, race, people and tongue … wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.” He who was the ultimate victim of an unjust and violent death, caused by the ultimate intolerance which is mankind’s sin, has paid the ultimate price for the realization of God’s dream for all of humankind – universal salvation!
The passage from Revelation paints this dream in glowing and hopeful terms: “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The one, big, and great human family still has a long way to go towards the realization of that vision. In God’s own good time, sooner or later, our Christian faith tells us, this “temporary exile” in this fragmented and fractious world; in this “valley of tears,” where there is so much killing even in the very holy name of God; in our little various groupings where so much jealousy and intrigue cause untold harm to the mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and to the whole of the human race; in our own little world where unforgiveness reigns – all this will disappear, and “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
But between the reality of the now and the vision of God, there remains the on-going task of us all to help make this dream come true. In the so-called “in-between time” of the earthly Church, all of us are expected to work assiduously and hopefully so that God’s Kingdom may come here on earth. Christ leads us to where the fish are, but we need to cast the net ourselves. Christ gives us the means, but we need to haul the fish ashore ourselves. Remember that in last week’s gospel, the Lord has lit up the fire by the seashore for his hungry disciples. But the disciples had to be the ones to bring the catch in for them to cook and eat.
Surely everyone reading this is aware of the great urgency there is in the world to change paradigms and go by God’s vision, God’s dream and go by His ways and not our ways. Surely, by now, most of us understand that the way of violence and war does not belong to what the Risen Lord told us and still tells us. One of the clear ways He shows is the great lesson of unity in diversity that is the Trinitarian God as revealed definitively by Jesus Christ. Distinct and different as three Persons, they are nevertheless united in the Godhead, in the Trinitarian mystery of love and interpersonal relations.
The Trinitarian God is the ultimate way towards Christ’s vision and dream of perfect oneness between and amongst all women and men all over the world, of whatever race, culture or color. And the love between the three Persons of the Trinity is the most compelling reason for us to go and do as Jesus did, as Jesus lived, as Jesus loved: “The Father and I are one.” This living and loving God, revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord, now tells us as Jesus told Peter: “Feed my sheep … Tend my sheep … Feed my lambs.”