Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
The above verse was part of this past Sunday’s liturgy in the Anglican liturgical calendar, so was read in communion services the world over. It stands in stark contrast to reports of some nasty comments made by the US President about specific nations he considers to be unworthy of immigration.
Also in this past week Gallup released the results of a survey identifying President Trump’s approval ratings among various religious groups. While not as high as one would expect for a Republican president, Trump had the highest approval ratings among Mormons (his approval rating among Evangelicals was not part of the poll) – 61 percent.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unity: in our church, communities, and nations. Unity is a tough thing to achieve. I mean, we have to stand for something, right? But if we water things down to the point where we can agree on things, don’t we effectively become the Borg; part of some collective that assimilates us? I don’t think that’s what God has in mind for us.
It is difficult to come to agreement on positions that can be so diametrically opposed to one another. Whether it is immigration, LGBT rights, the role of religion in the public square, or the fact that we just can’t stand to see Tom Brady win yet another Super Bowl, we have positions that can deeply divide our communities. At times, it seems as though unity is a fleeting dream, never to be realized.
My wife’s family gets together every month for a large family dinner, with grandparents, parents, kids, and grandchildren. We don’t all get along or see eye-to-eye on everything. We aren’t united theologically or politically, and we may even root against each other’s sports teams. We are, however, family, and we are reminded of that each time we sit down to the dinner table and share a meal. In that moment we are united, bound together by familial ties, celebrated and memorialized by our monthly meal together.
Perhaps that is how we achieve unity. Perhaps, despite some of our differences, when we focus on things we have in common and build upon those, we walk the road of unity.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
I think Jesus gave us that common ground upon which we can build unity. Love, while being incredibly difficult to realize, is something upon which nearly all can agree. And not just love – love like that shown by Jesus to those around him.
In a time when the company with whom you dined communicated your standing in society, Jesus ate with sinners, publicans, and adulterers.
He taught the Samaritan woman by the well, and by doing so called one of his first missionaries.
In an era that prohibited women witnesses, Jesus made women the chief witnesses of his resurrection.
His work blew open notions of worthiness, as Philip, inspired by his Master’s example, baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, someone who, by lineage, race, and gender, would have been completely unworthy of joining the Jewish community. The outpouring of God’s Spirit redefined worthiness.
Jesus called Saul to a most important work, making very uncomfortable those who would police the boundaries of that early Christian community.
Most of all, his Messiah work destroyed the very definition of what it was a Messiah would do. It was scandalous that the Jewish Messiah was crucified. Surely such a shameful, ignominious death signaled that he was yet another fraud. But God had a different idea of how it was a king in his Kingdom would act.
To those who considered Jesus’ theology disruptive and his example inconvenient, his resurrection and subsequent revelation on the right hand of God was evidence that God approved of Jesus’ actions, while simultaneously condemning the political and religious systems of his time.
Exclusive access to God was now a thing of the past. The temple veil was torn, revealing God to all.
The life of Jesus Christ is the very heart of what it means to be Christian. He was the revelation of God’s nature for all of mankind to see. He destroyed preconceived notions and man-made boundaries. He demanded a unity built on love.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
There is an account in Luke of Jesus eating a meal at the house of Simon the Pharisee. It is recorded in Luke 7:36-50:
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
We should heed the lesson Jesus taught Simon the Pharisee: that we are all broken, falling short of our potential. It is our brokenness that we have in common. It is our love that can unify us. Simon tried to erect boundaries based on worthiness but Jesus erased them. We all eat at Jesus’ table, so at his table all are broken, but all are cleansed. As a result, all are united, and all are loved.