Today’s readings seem to be starkly at odds because they exhort us to embrace what appears to be such radically different behavior.
The reading from the gospel of John continues Jesus’ discourse to his disciples the night before he died. In one of the most poignant passages of the New Testament, Jesus prays “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you….” Those words go straight to our hearts because Jesus articulates a vision of harmony and unity, of deep intimacy and abiding peace, which are the very things for which all of us long. We hunger for a world in which there are no more divisions, no more alienation and estrangement, no more arguing and shouting, no more hatred and hostility. We hunger for a world in which there are no more breakdowns in love. Jesus’ prayer is one we want to make our own because we know that we are brought to fullness of life not apart from one another or independent of one another, but only together. As Jesus prays: “that they may be brought to perfection as one….”
And yet, in the first reading from Acts, the apostle Paul seems more a disturber of peace than an instrument of peace. Paul is on trial before the chief priests and the Sanhedrin because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead. Instead of keeping quiet, Paul speaks out. His words lead not to harmony and peace, but to a “great uproar,” one so extreme that the commander fears for Paul’s life.
Perhaps the message of today’s readings is that, yes, we are called to live in harmony and peace with one another, but not at any price. Paul refused to be silent because he knew that Christianity stands or falls on whether or not Jesus’ resurrection—and our sharing in it—is true. Like Paul, we should not suppress the fundamental beliefs of our lives, and especially of our faith, simply not to provoke conflict and opposition. In fact, as Paul shows us, there are times when disturbing the peace is not only an act of courage, but also a powerful act of love.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.