Road to Calvary with Veronica's Veil by Giovanni Cariani (between 1523 and 1525) Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Oneness of the community

  • April 2, 2015

Second Sunday of Easter (Year B) April 12 (Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31)

What was the secret of the first generation of Christian believers? Why were they able to withstand persecution and thrive?

The reading from Acts lets us in on their secret: it was their unity of minds and hearts and open-handed sharing of all that they had. There was no needy person among them and they renounced the right to say “it’s mine” because they had received a far greater treasure.

With the death of inequality, fear and competition, the Spirit was free to roam throughout the Christian community, inspiring and uplifting everyone. The power and grace flowing through the community was palpable, giving them boldness to witness to the Lord Jesus.

This should shed light on what ails modern societies and even church communities. Plain and simple, it is our worship of the individual minus a sense of responsibility and interdependence towards others.

The early Christians experienced the oneness of the community in the Eucharist, communal prayer and their shared common life.

The trust level was very high, and they were willing and able to be vulnerable before one another. Elsewhere in Acts we are informed that they ate their communal meals with “glad and grateful hearts.” In other words, they lived by the refrain from the Psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love endures forever.”

Gratitude is a quality in short supply in our own time. It does not harmonize well with possessiveness, negativity, fear, a sense of entitlement, consumerism or greed. The spiritual health of any community can be read immediately by the manner in which the weak, marginalized or poor are treated, as well as the degree of gratitude that is evident. The shared life portrayed in Acts of the Apostles is not a historical curiosity, but the essential elements of any healthy and humane society or group.

What does loving God and obeying God’s commandments mean? In the Gospel of John and the Letters that accompany it, it is clear: loving one another, even to the point of laying down one’s life. Together with firm belief in Jesus, who manifested divine love perfectly, it is possible for us to overcome the world. The world has a strong hold on people, for it represents conflict, aggressiveness, fear and competition.

The early Christian communities struggled hard to “unlearn” the ways of the world and learn the ways of God. Unfortunately, these lessons have so often slipped away and been replaced by worldly values sprinkled with religious language and symbolism.
Thomas would fit well in our own culture: he wanted empirical proof that Jesus was alive. Many trees are cut down to write books seeking to prove or disprove the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus. In a sense, both are a waste — these things are not subject to rational proofs. God must be experienced, and Jesus must be encountered, for either one to be a vibrant or significant force in our lives. Faith is not merely an intellectual assent to timeless truths, but an opening of the heart and mind to the power and love of God. When Jesus chided Thomas for his insistence on proof, He praised those of later generations who would come to faith in this manner.   

Jesus offered His followers peace — wholeness — with God, themselves, and with one another. As He breathed into them the empowering Spirit, Jesus charged them with the same ministry that the Father had given Him — to reveal God to a world that did not really know God. He maintained that to encounter Him was to encounter the Father. In a similar manner, when others encounter us they should have at least hints of the love and light of God.

John’s community was a communion of equals and a school of the love and service that is the distinguishing mark of a disciple of Jesus. A religious community that fails in this fails in its essential mission, and when God remains completely hidden in our daily encounters with others we fail in ours.