Year C, 16th Sunday OT | Ephesians 2:13-18
During the past US elections, a certain slogan became popular. It was often chanted during political rallies and met with cheers. The slogan is this: “Build a wall! Build a wall!” Although the particular wall in question was to be located between the United States and Mexico, the desire to build walls in general is ingrained within us. We appear to be very good at walling-off others from us, whether it be in the literal or metaphorical sense.
In the Church too there is a tendency to build walls between individuals and groups. Although we rarely state it aloud, we can separate others from us, thinking that they are somehow “less Catholic” than us, or not quite as worthy to be in the Church. We may wall-off people in the Church because they don’t think like us. Maybe they have different political views. Perhaps they have different tastes in Church music or liturgy. Another reason we may create a wall to divide others from us is because they are not part of the right group. In the Church, we are blessed to have so many communities and movements that contribute greatly to the life and mission of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, however, people can separate themselves from those who participate in groups they do not like, often viewing them with suspicion. In addition, those who are members of groups can at times divide themselves from others in the Church who are not part of their particular community. Finally, we may create walls and divide ourselves from others because we perceive that they have wronged us. Perhaps this is the most common reason for building walls in the Church. Unfortunately, we are all too good at creating divisions in the Church.
Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus tore down the walls that divide his followers. In the second reading today, we heard a wonderful passage from the Letter to the Ephesians (2:3-18). This letter was written to a community in which there existed some significant divisions. It is likely that part of the division was between followers of Jesus who came from a Jewish background and followers of Jesus who came from a Gentile, or non-Jewish, background. The main message of the passage is that neither group should consider itself superior or separated from the other. The two groups, which were divided before the coming of Christ, have now become one. Both are God’s beloved children and are part of the same family. The letter vividly describes the end of separation between Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus when it explains that Jesus “has broke down the dividing wall of enmity”. Although there is some debate as to what specific wall the letter has in mind, it is likely that the wall in question referred to the dividing barrier that was in the Temple. When the Temple in Jerusalem was in operation, there was a barrier that separated the Court of the Gentile from the inner courts. Although all could visit the former location, only Jews could pass further than the barrier. Therefore, many were excluded from the holiest places of the Temple, where God was thought to be most present. In an an archaeological dig, an inscription from the temple barrier was found. It reads as follows: “No man of another race is to enter within the fence and enclosure around the Temple. Whoever is caught will have only himself to thank for the death which follows”. For those early Christians who were aware of the barrier within the Temple, the message of the Letter to the Ephesians would have been especially strong. Because of Jesus, now all had equal access to God. In Christ, all are to be united.
|Jerusalem Temple Warning Inscription (source)|
Because Jesus came to destroy walls that separate his followers, we should actively work to overcome divisions in the Church. It is only too easy to separate ourselves from those who have hurt us and those who think differently than us. St. Ignatius of Loyola gives some helpful advice for maintaining unity among Christians. This saint experienced first hand what it was like to be walled-off from the rest of the Church community. When he was beginning his community, his work was met with suspicion and even outright hostility. Over time, however, his teaching was enthusiastically accepted by the Church. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius gives a powerful principle that can help us maintain unity with our fellow Church members. Namely, we should assume the best possible intent in other people. For example, if someone treats us in a way we think is unfair, instead of assuming that they are motivated by malice towards us, we can assume that we have perhaps misunderstood them, or that they are simply having a bad day. If our fellow Christians behave in a way we find puzzling or think differently than us, rather than immediately thinking they are misguided, we should try to assume that they are motivated by love of the Church. When we are tempted to wall-off and separate ourselves from some individual or group in the Church, our first step should be to always assume that they are motivated by the best intentions rather than the worst. By assuming the worst, we quickly build walls in the Church and cause division. By assuming the best, unity is maintained.
Who is some individual or group in the Church that you have difficulty accepting or getting along with? Today, try assuming that their actions are motivated by the best possible intentions. Jesus’ mission included tearing down the walls that divide us. Let us make sure that we never work against him and build up new walls within the Church.
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