I’m currently reading Mission in the Gospels, by R. Geoffrey Harris. In the book’s introduction, Harris opines that “[p]erhaps the most significant aspect of the Early Church’s mission is its astonishing capacity to hold together in unity very disparate groups of people.” At a time when Samaritans were sworn enemies of the Jews, Samaritans and Jews both feared and reviled the Gentiles and all three groups had very different understandings of God and of the meaning of life, the reconcilation the Church managed to forge “almost defies belief,” to use Harris’ words. “Reconciliation,” as Harris uses the term “is not just about people deciding to tolerate one another and to live together in peace; it is about different groups with different agendas forming part of the same community; learning to merge their identity and give up their individual ambitions for the sake of a common ideal and vision.”
Harris clearly believes that the experience of the early Church leaves us “an example to follow and a pattern to imitate” as we struggle to deal with the divisions of our day. Three weeks before a major election, we are all painfully aware of the conflict and division in our country and in the world. Achieving the kind of reconciliation of which Harris speaks is a tremendous challenge, a quite daunting one. And I confess that a part of me wonders whether we are past the point where achieving such a reconciliation is possible. Yet attempting to do so is a challenge that we as Church are called to undertake. Let us approach it with a spirit of courage and joy and each of us ask ourselves: What is my part in forging reconciliation? How can I help different groups with different agendas become part of the same community.