In the gospel reading this weekend at Mass, Jesus looked up to Heaven and said, “I pray for those who will believe in me, that they will all hate each other and break off into separate groups. I pray that they will insult each other, and accuse each other of heresy, and proclaim that they, and they alone, hold the TRUE Christian faith.”
Oh wait. That’s not what Jesus said. He actually said, “I pray for those who will believe in me…that they may all be one.”
I'm sorry. I was confusing the Lord’s desire for His followers with what has actually happened over the last 20 centuries.
Have you ever read this gospel passage, where Jesus prayed that His followers would be one, and wondered what Jesus must be thinking right about now? The history of Christendom is marked at least as much by fighting as by faith; as much by hatred as by holiness.
Jesus is probably disappointed, but not very surprised. After all, he understands human frailty. He knows how weak we can be. That’s why He had to give His life as an atonement for our sins: we’re simply incapable of attaining righteousness on our own.
Jesus knows that selfishness and anger come much more naturally to sinful people than do generosity and love. He knows it’s much easier for us to distrust strangers than to embrace them as friends. He’s probably not surprised that we have broken off into thousands of denominations and factions—all in His name. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t breaking His heart.
A mother doesn’t love her children any less just because they constantly fight. But it does grieve her, deep in her heart, that they can’t treat each other with respect and love.
It must be the same with Jesus. He still loves us more than we can comprehend. But deep in His heart He must be grieving.
Jesus not only prayed that His followers would be one so that we could strengthen one another and experience the joy of Christian fellowship, but He also prayed to His Father for Christian unity so that “the world may believe that you sent me.”
Jesus desires that the Christian world be united as a witness to His power and majesty. Our unity is supposed to be one of our greatest assets in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Just think how many people throughout history could have experienced the salvation that Jesus offers, but never listened to the message of the Good News because of the hypocritical behavior of Christians. In other words, when people don’t practice what they preach, few listen to the preaching.
People are actually being driven away from Jesus because of the behavior of Christians. And more often than not, it is denominational narcissism—the claim that one particular method of worship is the ONLY valid way—that drives them away.
When we refuse to be one, when we revel in our own denominational uniqueness and sneer at those who are slightly different, we are directly opposing Jesus’ prayerful desire. And we do it to our own detriment. We become less Christian, less holy, when we embrace man-made barriers rather than embracing Jesus himself.
But the loss we experience now by being so petty is nothing compared to the loss we may experience later if we drive others away from Christ by our behavior. Jesus made it very clear what would happen to anyone who caused one His little ones to sin. Something about millstones and the bottom of the ocean, as I recall.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the various Christian groups focused on the 90% similarities we have regarding doctrine, rather than being obsessed about the 10% differences?
Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus’ prayer was finally answered in our generation?