The question of unity is a question that confronts every generation of Christians. Many factors today make unity a real task, as Christians are easily divided on ideological lines and on the basis of other considerations. This internal disunity very much hampers the work of spreading the gospel.
The Gospel of today from John 17:20-26 presents us with a section of the powerful prayer of Jesus to the Father with which he concludes his farewell session with his disciples. One of the main themes of the prayer is unity among the followers of Jesus. Jesus asks the Father for the grace of unity among his followers. This unity is patterned on the unity between Jesus and the Father. Only such unity can make the Christian message credible in the world.
Unity is a favorite theme in John’s Gospel, and it very much defines the entire Johannine thought. Without unity, the disciples of Jesus can hardly live the new life in Christ. Jesus already presents himself in John 14:7 as the way, the truth, and the life. It is only by being united with him that the followers can find the way to true life.
Working for Unity in a Divisive world
Unity by its nature is a conscious decision to agree and work together even when we differ on many grounds. Being committed to unity does not mean working for unity only once in a while but being always at the service of unity. The commitment to unity is itself a mark of contradiction in a world that is often prone to divisiveness and individualism. So, the unity among believers is itself a mark of contradiction and uniqueness. Only through such unity can the world know that they are real followers of Christ. Jesus knows how difficult such unity can be. That’s why he lays emphasis on it in the prayer.
Problem of Disunity Among Believers
Disunity destroys the credibility of the Christian message. It also destroys the very nature and identity of the Church as the body of Christ. Being united means being one while being divided means destroying the oneness. It means detaching the members from one another and, thus, destroying the wholeness of the body.
The ministry of the Church requires unity of purpose. This is frustrated by disunity. The effect of disunity can be seen in the first reading from Acts 22 and 23 where Paul capitalizes on the internal, doctrinal disunity between the two parties of the Pharisees and the Sadducees to free himself from a difficult trial.
In like manner, Christianity suffered through the centuries because of periods of internal doctrinal disunity. It frustrated the further penetration of the faith into many lands. Even today, lack of unity among Christians frustrates their efforts at influencing the world with authentic gospel values. It frustrates the promotion of authentic family values and encourages the disintegration of society on diverse levels.
There is need to continue to stress the commitment to unity as a mode of being Christian in today’s world. Contemporary culture purports to bring the world together in a common global village but what one sees is the growth of individualism and horrendous ego mania that exploits the other for the enhancement of the self.