Confrontation and community

The readings for the day of Pentecost offer a flavour of unity. The hearers of the message are astonished. “How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own language?” And Paul tells the Corinthians, “There is a variety of gifts but always one Spirit.” One unwritten message in the book of Acts is that, though there were many controversies, there were no splits.

The biggest confrontation was between those who wanted the gentile converts to the Christian faith to adopt Jewish ways and Paul and his companions who wanted them to be free of them. To read the account of the “long argument” (15:2) and the subsequent agreement among the “parties” of James, Peter and Paul is heart-warming. They listened. They disagreed but they faced the issues. Finally, they discovered the way the Holy Spirit was leading then to unity.

The Church has sought to preserve this unity ever since but sometimes the strain has been too much and it has split, first between east and west and then within the west itself. Confrontation flared into fireworks, war and persecution of Christians by Christians in the seventeenth century but has gradually subsided into tolerance and finally respect in more recent times. Now we have much union of minds and hearts between the Christian Churches though juridical union is still some way off.

This is something to chew. It does not just apply to Church history but to families and nations. We often hear of parents who hesitate to confront their teenage children. They may have corrected them when they were younger but to confront your sixteen year-old is a different matter. He or she might well say to their parents, in words or in attitude, “what do you know about what I am living now?” The parents back off, shrug their shoulders and wait. At times this will be the wise thing to do. But there are also times for confrontation.

I had an experience of it only yesterday. Someone who thought I was coming on too strong in a situation suggested I withdraw. I was shocked and defensive at first but soon saw the wisdom of their point. It was painful for a moment – as it always is when we find we have made a mistake – but I feel much better now that I was told. And they feel good that I accepted their view.

This was a small thing but there are cases in families and in nations where unity grows out of confronting issues. The Treaty of Paris on Climate Change?  It is painful at the time but later there is a deeper unity. The confrontation has to be done with love and understanding. My favourite icon for this is Peter after he had denied Jesus three times and Jesus “looked at him”. What kind of look was that? Was it ‘I told you so.’? ‘When will you ever learn?’ Of course not. It was pure understanding, forgiveness and love. And Peter’s fall led to a far deeper ‘communion’ with Jesus. That look was enough to make him a new man.

So, confrontation comes in different ways. But the bottom line has to be a passion for truth, love, understanding and a desire to be at one with others. May the Spirit of Jesus lead us into this!

Pentecost         June 3, 2017    Acts 2:1-11     1 Cor. 12:3…13          John 20:19-23

Post published in: Faith

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *