Breaking down barriers

The ‘international community’ is a phrase that glows with optimism. It suggests people united by common ideals, or on the way to being such, and sharing a common purpose. But is the ‘international community’ anything more than a convenient fiction used euphemistically to buttress our hope that most people share our ideals?

It is a new phrase, unlikely before, say, the 1960s and probably arose as a by-product of the hopes surrounding the founding of the United Nations in 1945. We were able to begin to talk of the world coming together, even if the 1960s were the height of the ‘cold war.’ UN sanctions on Rhodesia after UDI were one local example of the international community acting in pursuit of shared ideals of justice, even if the reality was a little thin.

The point I am coming to is that progress has been made in breaking down barriers between people and exposing to the light of day the fact that the things that unite us are far greater than those that divide. But it is a long process. There were many bitter rivalries in the ancient world and a well-known example from the bible was between the Samaritans and the Jews. They could not even talk to each another. Jesus’ visit to Sychar (John 4) had an electric effect on the inhabitants and it seems when Philip visited them (Acts 8) all the barriers came down and ‘there was great rejoicing in that town.’

That was two thousand years ago and in the interval new, even more bitter, rivalries have grown up to replace the old. The ‘international community’ remains a fractured reality and the knee jerk reaction that sees people as either ‘them’ or ‘us’ remains vividly alive. Yet we have begun to break down the barriers and the Easter season gives us many vignettes of this happening.

The core of the Christian message is human beings. I saw a greetings card recently sent out by a Jesuit priest who was murdered in Homs just before Easter. It shows a beautiful Arab girl. Is she a Christian? Is she a Muslim? Why ask? She is a human being and that is the heart of the matter. Religion has been divisive when it has not been true to its roots. But when it has it has been a catalyst in breaking down the barriers between ‘Jew and Greek, free and slave, man and woman,’ healthy and disabled.

In John 14:21 Jesus promises to ‘show himself to us.’ How does he do that? In a vision? Highly unlikely! He shows himself to us in multiplying the effects of our small efforts, our few loaves and fishes. Every move we make to break down the barriers between us – in our families, our neighbourhoods, our society – has a ripple effect spreading out until at last we have a true international community. – Ngomakurira

Post published in: Faith

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