I recently read a blog entitled, "Making No Difference." Alluding to the closing segment on NBC Nightly News ("Making a Difference"), it is the author’s contention that the news media has it all wrong. Those who really make a difference are not a California group that brings hope to deprived, inner-city children by fostering their appreciation of classical music through a program that offers free violin lessons, nor the middle class couple who respond to the desperate need for water in a remote village in Africa by sponsoring a water filtration plant and implementing its construction themselves. No. According to the author, these actions are very kind, but the broadcasting of such activity simply encourages more government grants like National Endowment for the Arts, or they subtly suggest the need for universal national health care. The real heroes and heroines, those who really make a difference, those who are making the greatest difference in American society, and in global well-being generally, are the millions of employees who report to work every day, striving to produce profits for their company, and, in the course of doing so, produce the goods and services enjoyed by all. A person who begins work for ExxonMobil or IBM at age 22 and works for 43 years, thereby contributing to the success of one of America’s great corporations and to the wealth of his country, is a hero who should be honored. Indeed, why is it that capitalism per se is never depicted as making a difference? "It is well and good to devote one’s energies to a nonprofit organization that spreads holiday cheer," the author insists, but his conclusion thunders, "only a free market will create the sort of wealth that reduces poverty to begin with, and so permanently eliminate the effects of poverty."
Rather than get caught up in such disparate ideas, today’s readings demand we journey deeper; and how very appropriate are both readings as we prepare for another national election! Today many of us seem to be hard-wired for polarization. As we ponder the selection from the letter to the Ephesians, we’re challenged to move beyond our dualistic, black and white thinking, right and left positioning. Rather than entrench ourselves more deeply into our own theological or political ideology, we’re asked to acknowledge the fact that all of us, together, form one body, but we have each received different gifts.
When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, he always seemed to be saying things counter-intuitive. Jesus is a boundary breaker who turns my world upside down. He says God’s Kingdom offers a peace and unity that the world cannot give. This is a Kingdom where, although the princes of this world use their power to dominate and control, in His Kingdom we use power to serve. This is a Kingdom where the weeds and wheat grow together, where it rains on the just and the unjust alike, where those hired at the end of the day receive the same wage as those who labored in the hot sun all day. It’s a Kingdom where we wash one another’s feet, and love our enemies.
Sure, we’ll differ with how we are to implement Jesus’ teaching, but let’s not forget that if we do not suffer and celebrate together, struggle and transmit life together, we are like the person whom Jesus warned: "You will all come to the same dreadful end unless you reform."
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.