Division in the Church—why scandalous?
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (John 6:1-15)
July 29, 2018
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
IN LAST Sunday’s reflection on the Gospel, we observed the glaring divisions that characterize our world: political, economic, and cultural. But our religion has not been immune to division. Within the Christianity, Christians are divided into Catholics and Protestants. But this is too general a division. Within the Catholicism, we have the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox and the Eastern Churches. In Protestantism, the division is almost atomistic: Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, and hundreds of other churches, not to mention the Pentecostal and Fundamentalist sects. The division shows its ugly head when the quarrel between Churches become violent. Of course, religious wars have become almost a thing of the past, but division remains a social fact.
Division, to be sure, is a great scandal, because it contradicts the very essence of the Church. That essence demands that the Church is one. As the 2nd Reading puts it, we must strive “to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:3-6a). Here Paul describes the calling of all Christians to unity, which has been established by means of the union with the Father through the Son in the Spirit. Disunity is unthinkable, and from the reading, we can point out the reasons. First of all, we are all one body (Eph 4:3), the body of Christ. If the body is divided, so is Christ. There is one Spirit (Eph 4:4), who calls us to the same vocation: eternal life. This is our hope. By the one Spirit, we receive one baptism (Eph 4:5) by means of which we are incorporated into the one body. Finally, the body is constituted as the one family of God, who is our one and only Father (Eph 4:6). This is our identity as Christians: one body. And we must become what we are.
The Christian community, therefore, must be one. If the various Churches, given the historical, cultural, economic and cultural factors, cannot be united, at least one can exhort that our small faith communities, our religious congregations, our presbyteriums, and our very own Christian families should exhibit that vocation: to show our unity with God in our relationships with our brothers and sisters. And how is that unity demonstrated? The gospel (John 6:1-15), which relates the episode of the feeding of the multitude, teaches us that at least we can express that unity in the liturgy and in our concrete day-to-day life.
There is no doubt that in the gospel reading, John takes the narrative not as a miracle story, unlike the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), but as a sign (semeion), a vehicle in the revelation of Jesus as the bread-giver for the life of the world. As such, it points to the Eucharist. This is probably the reason why John uses the verb eucharistein in the sign-narrative. To know the Eucharist—Jesus himself the giver of life, one must examine the episode. Just as in the past God fed his people with manna in the desert, so Jesus feeds his people now in the Eucharist. The feeding of the Eucharist, in other words, is a sign that we are the one family of God. Thus, our gathering around the one table is a demonstration that we all belong to the one body of Christ. It is for this reason that when we come to the Eucharistic Celebration, we do so not to pray alone or together, but we do so in order to act out who we are: one people celebrating the death of the Lord (1 Cor 11:26) which constituted us into one family of God. The Eucharistic Celebration is therefore a communal celebration. It is not a collection of people praying at the same time. The Eucharistic Prayer beautifully expresses our vocation to unity: “May all of us who are in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit” (Eucharistic Prayer II)
But the unity that we celebrate in the Eucharist is to spill over to our everyday life. As Christians, we cannot close ourselves to our brothers and sisters in need. Our unity is displayed in our solidarity with the poorer members of the Christian community. A great scandal that members of faith communities, congregations, presbyteriums, and our families can create is to refuse to share their wealth with their lesser members, at the same time celebrate with them the Eucharist. Paul stresses this point well. For him, such a practice is a contempt for one body of Christ, and a dishonor to the poor. The meaning of the Eucharist is not realized: “When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk…. Do you show contempt for the church of God and makes those who have nothing feel ashamed?”(1 Cor 11:20-22b). That is why, in the Gospel, the five barley loaves were shared, and all—not just a few—had their fill. Thus, the Eucharist motives us to share, and preserve the unity of the community by seeing to it that there is no one needy among its members (Act s 4:34). That way, we live a life worthy of the Eucharist and our call to unity.