SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The Great Reconciliation
First Reading (Jer 23: 1-6): The Lord will gather the sheep from all lands
Second Reading (Eph 2: 13-18): Christ breaks down hostility and makes peace
Gospel (Mk 6: 30-34): Crowds from all over come to hear Jesus preach
-“Heaven and earth can draw a straight line with a crooked ruler. Rain and dew can benefit all of creation.”(1)
“He is our peace: in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. (Eph 2: 14-16)
One of the most important fruits of the salvation Christ brought is reconciliation: reconciliation between human beings and God, and in God reconciliation among all people with each other. During Paul's time, the difference between Jews and Gentiles was greater than that of any groups today, whether political parties, economic classes or ethnic groups. Discrimination one group for the other was greater even than that which exists today between Christian fundamentalists and members of the more traditional religions.
In the two verses before today's first reading, Paul pointed out three shortcomings of the Gentiles. First, they were ‘uncircumcised’ so their bodies did not bear the mark of the ancient Covenant, and thus they had no blood-relationship with the Messiah (cf Eph 2:11); secondly, politically they were not part of the tribes of Israel, so were ‘strangers’ or ‘outsiders’ to the ‘covenant of the promise.’ (cf. Eph 2:12). The third shortcoming was because they ‘had no hope and were without God in the world.’ (cf Eph 2:12). Paul is called ‘the Apostle to the Gentiles,’ and had special affection for them. Even so, he had such a negative view towards those who were not Jews. How much more, then, the Jews of his time.
But no matter how people judged the Gentiles, no matter how great the differences among peoples, no matter how thick and high the walls of division and obstacles to good will among people, Paul believed that Christ “has broken down the dividing wall.” Christ was God incarnate and became human for the benefit of all humankind, he was nailed to the cross and conquered death by his resurrection and ascension for all humankind. Therefore God already had entered into the life of all human beings, all cultures and social structures, effecting our salvation and sanctification.
No one can hem God in or build up walls that restrict God's movements, or prevent God from pouring out saving grace on all members of the human race. Moreover, the church of Christ, together with Christ himself, should help to break down any barriers that might attempt this.
The Vatican II Council document, “Constitution on the Church” says, “By her relationship with Christ the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all humankind. She is also an instrument for the achievement of such union and unity.” (art 1) Simply stated, the Catholic Church's mission is reconciliation. It must use every means possible to promote reconciliation between God and human beings, and human beings with each other, until all are united in union with one another.
Paul's view was that the walls of hindrances came from hatred on both sides. Conflicting views about individual or communal advantages gradually developed into cultural differences and then opposing political positions. Religious doctrine added strength and rationality to these positions. Sometimes people even called upon God to come down and be their helper in overcoming those whom they hated and with whom they were in conflict! Therefore throughout the entire history of all human conflicts and wars, there can be added the strange phenomenon of ‘religious wars’. Unfortunately, some people even call them ‘Holy Wars!’
Actually, the very idea of ‘a religious war’ is a mockery – especially if it refers to a war among countries which are Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. Because they all believe in the same God, and during a war they all call upon the same God to destroy other people whom God loves and has saved!
Paul thought that to destroy hatred was in order to establish peace and enable all humankind to become one. And this must be founded on “reconciliation with God.”
God is truly a God of compassion. Today's Gospel reminds us that “as Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them. (Mk 6:34)
Being merciful to humankind is one of God's characteristics. This is what is meant by the Chinese saying “Heaven and earth can draw a straight line with a crooked ruler. Rain and dew can benefit all of creation.”(1) John in his first letter says that “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8) From the start our God has been a compassionate and benevolent God, a loving Father who cares for every detail of our lives. That is why we say in the Lord's Prayer, “Our Father in heaven.” Our God is not a God far away from us. He is a merciful Father “full of loving kindness.”
If we really want to be reconciled with God, we must learn about God's own love and compassion, nurture a heart full of sympathy and mercy, and live in peace with all other people. Then the barriers which separate us human beings one from the other will dissolve and disappear altogether.