By Isaiah’s account, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing.” We Christians take that as a prophecy not only about Christ’s coming, but also about his people.
And yet so often in the life of the church, Christ is divided into pieces, and the song of his people is cacophony. Divisions afflict the various Christian tribes. The rod of the taskmaster, which Jesus was foretold to smash, is wielded by factions who think they have cornered Christ.
In the Catholic church, it often goes like this: I am for Ratzinger. I am for Rahner. I am the Pope’s. I am for protest, I’m for restoration. I’m for reform. I’m for women. I’m for tradition.
We’re forgetting something: Has Ratzinger or Rahner saved us? Is it the Pope who has been crucified for us? Have we been baptized in the name of tradition or of change?
The factionalist, whether of Paul’s time or our own, “belongs” to someone other than Jesus. Some think that Paul has the truth. Others cling to Apollos. Others pledge their allegiance to Peter. Yet Paul will have no truck with this line of thought.
“Has Christ, then, been divided into parts? Was it Paul who was crucified for you?” Our baptism, through the gifts of tradition and law, ritual and order, is the sign of our salvation; but the salvation is found in Christ, no one, no thing else. Other voices that offer us another savior speak the worldly language of power and privilege, not the way of the cross, which to them seems inadequate and foolish.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus leaves Nazareth for Capernaum to fulfill the promise of bringing light to the Jordan. He preached that the Kingdom of God requires reform. Indeed it does. So it was for the church of Peter and Paul. So it is for us today.
In the “always reforming” life of the church, at least two principles seem important. First, every one of us, from pope to pauper, from theologian to activist, from grandparent to child, stands humbly before God as a sinner called to conversion and salvation in Jesus Christ. There can be no other ground or principle from which we can approach our various gifts or deficiencies.
Second, it is good to recall the kinds of people Jesus chose for Apostles: from the fishermen brothers, Simon and Andrew, to Matthew and John, they were all flawed yet graced. They would go on to heal and preach a kingdom that would draw millions to Christ. And what always helped them overcome their differences was the sure knowledge that it was in Christ’s name they were fishing, not their own.