Jealousy and Unity in Diversity
By Fr. Pete Iorio
Have you ever paid attention to how creative God is? I just walk around the circle of our grounds and am amazed at the variety of flowering plants and shrubs and trees that a wonderful couple donates and plants in that space. There is always something new and beautiful.
On this Mother’s Day weekend, I am grateful for the amazing diversity of moms I have encountered. Thank God, not all of you wonderful women who gave us life and teaching and nurturing and wisdom are all the same. God knew what He was doing when He created you.
Each year the Church offers us this Sunday as the Good Shepherd Sunday. With words and characteristics that could describe mothers, the Gospel clearly speaks of the tenderness that Jesus has for his sheep. He says that his flock is the gift of his Father and that in his care nothing will be lost. It is a Gospel that gives us confidence in the God who calls us and cares for us throughout our lives. For many the image of the Good Shepherd brings comfort, security and peace. Especially in difficult times, it is good to be sure that Christ cares for us.
While this message of the Good Shepherd speaks of tenderness and care, this is not how everyone who heard Jesus say this responded. John chapter 10 continues with verse 31.
31The Jews again picked up rocks to stone him.s32Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?”33The Jews answered him, “We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.”t34*
Theologically speaking, we say that in Jesus Christ is the union of humanity and divinity, also called the hypostatic union. In one person is two natures, fully human and fully divine. This is not accepted by the Jews even though Jesus goes on to highlight Scripture where this principle is mentioned.
What God has done in Jesus, God is doing everywhere – in you and in me. God puts together human and divine. We are at the same time, children of earth and also children of heaven. We are made in the image and likeness of God. This is really Good News. Many today find it difficult to believe.
We also find another theme in the readings, the theme of the diversity of the flock of Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles after Pentecost and after the conversion of Saul to Paul, we see that Paul and Barnabas brought the Church to the countries of the Gentiles, saying that the Lord commanded him. Upon hearing these words of the apostles, the Gentiles or non-Jews rejoiced and glorified God. With joy they will embrace the faith that promised them eternal life. Thus grew the early Church, despite the resistance of the Jews who did not want to accept the new Christians.
In fact, they were filled with jealousy. Jealousy arises when we see someone else enjoying something we wish we had. Jealousy is self-focused. Why were they jealous? Those Jews were jealous of the large crowds gathering to hear Paul and Barnabas preach. It upset them to see these outsiders receiving so much attention and not them. That is how jealousy works: when we see someone enjoying something we want, our desire for that object grows and if we are not careful, our desire can turn into resentment and even to hatred and violence. This jealousy cycle drives a lot of the conflicts in our world. It is an attitude that says that a particular person or a particular group does not deserve such and such.
But God’s desire is that as different as He made all of his children to be, we should be united in love.
In the book of Revelation , John has a vision of this growth and diversity of the Church. He saw a large crowd, composed of people of all nations and races, of all peoples and languages. The Church was not limited to a single group, but it had to grow to include all those who heard the word and the Good News. This is the vision that the Church must move towards especially today. It is the vision of Christ.
I notice that most folks (myself included) tend to associate with people of the same culture and race, of the same economic class, and with the same ideals. It is difficult to establish good relationships with people we see as different. Perhaps it is out of fear, or through intolerance, but even in the Church, we use words that appreciate diversity, but our actions indicate something else. I know that I have to be deliberate about loving those who are different from me. When my human nature would prefer the easy way, I call upon the divine nature in me to actively promote unity in diversity.
The Good Shepherd readings invite us to contemplate the idea of diversity in our community. We see that the Good Shepherd is committed to the well-being of all his flock. The differences that exist between us should mark our heritage and our culture, but they should not exist as barriers to our unity. These distinctions must demonstrate the richness of the community of faith, and not separate us from each other. These differences should indicate the creativity of our God, not serve as a reason for fear and distrust.
If we listen to the voice of this Good Shepherd, it will guide us from fear to trust, especially trusting in the goodness of those who are different than we are. In the diversity of our parish and of our community and in our nation, we will all find what we need to live with the security of the Good Shepherd and also be able to follow his lead in caring for all.