For Christ is our peace, He made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his Flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one Body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.
Ephesians 2: 14-16
Jesus said to his disciples: “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.”
Is the foundational sin of Christianity the turning of Jesus’ teachings and the reality of his ongoing life and presence into yet another religious sect? We human beings seem to have an almost infinite capacity for separation and sectarianism. In the words of Ephesians, we are forever creating “the dividing wall of enmity” between us. In our fears, we focus so intently on our differences that we are constantly increasing the distance between and among us, based on physical appearance, beliefs, traditions, and so on.
Many years ago, one of our Kenyan brothers pointed out that their sense of tribalism was so difficult to overcome because they had been indoctrinated from the beginning in their tribal identity. This set them aside from the neighboring tribes, which were considered always as threats to them. For example, he said, the name that the members of his tribe gave to the neighboring tribe was “the goat stealers.” This way of seeing the world, however, is not confined to Africa. Our designations for each other usually involve race, or national origin, or religious belief. For example, I grew up in an environment that was primarily Protestant and in which to be “Catholic” was to be different or marginal. When it came to religion, I realized quite young that there was a “dividing wall” between me and even members of my own extended family. Today in the United States there is much attention paid to the tribalism of our political affiliations.
Perhaps all of this accounts for the fact that hearing the reading from Ephesians this morning, I experienced something of a cognitive shock. Ephesians describes the Christ as our peace, as the One in whom we have become one instead of two. To come to know Jesus is to recognize that there is no longer a dividing wall between us. This seems to mean that awakening to faith in Jesus is not another marker of separation, but it is rather the realization that all is one and all is peace. Were we to know and live in Christ, we would no longer define ourselves and our significance as distinct and separate from others, but rather as a member of “one Body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.”
In the gospel we hear that the distinguishing mark of the disciple is vigilance. To be a believer and disciple means we live constantly on the lookout for the Master’s return, “ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” To be vigilant in the spiritual sense is to be watchful, but it is also to be open and vulnerable. We create dividing walls precisely because we are fearful of the others. To the degree we live in fear, however, we are lacking in faith in Jesus. For in him, we know that we are one Body, no longer two but one. As vigilant, we welcome “otherness” because we anticipate that the other is bringing the Lord to us. Perhaps our greatest failing as disciples of Jesus is the fact that we have reduced his reality to yet another sect that separates us, that creates another stone in the dividing wall between peoples. In Christ “the law with its commandments and legal claims” has been destroyed. Is it possible that a universal “ecumenism” is not an aspect of the faith but rather is the Christian faith?
In terms of our ordinary daily lives in our pluriform societies, this means that the “Christian” is the witness to and servant of unity. To live in Christ is to realize our communion with all. We are not called to be judges and scolds for those who are other than us; we are rather to be signs, in action, of a uniting love that is the truth of our humanity in Christ. In faith we know the truth of our common humanity, yet, at the same time, we live awaiting and watching for its ultimate manifestation.
We are told by Jesus to “gird your loins and light your lamps” and to be “ready to open immediately” when Jesus “comes and knocks.” To be a disciple is to be ever watchful for signs of the Lord’s coming. It is to live our days looking for his arrival in all the forms his life and love take. St. Benedict in his Rule says that his monks are to receive the guest as Christ. This is the vigilance of which the gospel speaks. It is to be present to life and world not in fear and suspicion but in trust and vulnerability. It is to know as the truth that in Christ we are one Body.
As Jesus describes how we are to live in watchfulness and openness to the return of the Master, he then offers one of the great reversals that mark the gospel teachings. When the Master arrives, “he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.” The Lord does not overwhelm us by his presence, there is no “great rapture.” Instead he serves us. When we serve the other, and each other, has the Master already arrived? Do we live already in the Kingdom, although it is usually buried beneath the forces for division, violence, greed and selfishness that dominate the surface reality?
To live contemplatively is to live with awareness of and presence to the Reality that is under the surface. To wait, in the way the gospel describes, is to wait on the emergence of that which we know, in faith, to be true. To be a Christian and to build walls is antithetical, because the true Christian is the one who knows and has “seen that “Christ is our peace,” and that in Christ we are “one new person in place of the two.”
As a boy, the ways in which my family and I were Christians created “a dividing wall” between us. Christ is not division but peace. To claim privilege over others by means of our “Christian faith” is to pervert and reject the truth of Christ. The claims to an exclusive possession of the truth are the very “legal claims” that Ephesians tells us Christ has abolished. To become “contemplative” is to watch, to behold the world until its truth is revealed to us, and that truth is that we all are “one new person, one Body.” That Body of Christ is, as the master in the parable, of his very nature a servant. We bring to light and to life that body by “waiting on” the world. This is true in both senses of the word. We wait in expectation and joyful hope for the revelation of the Lord in the world, and, as we wait, we wait on those who are the ways of Christ’s coming to us.
In our time, perhaps like all times, of chaos, and division, and fear, the Christian is the one who waits on and so witnesses to a reality beneath the surface. Those 7200 people fleeing poverty and fear are not “bad people.” They are brothers and sisters in the one Body. Beyond the insatiable demand for greater wealth and gratification, no matter the cost to the poor of the planet, the Christian witnesses to our deeper desire to care for, to serve, and to love each other. Deeper than our fear, division and strife, there is One who is always serving and unifying. To be a disciple is to make manifest, as best we can, that truth.
The humanity of our Lord is thus taken up into God and is noble, wise, holy, and blessed above and beyond all creatures. He alone is the heir in God’s kingdom, both by nature and by grace, for he is the firstborn of his Father and mother, the sovereign Prince of all his brothers. If he wishes, and if we are worthy of it through his grace, he will make us coheirs with himself and sharers of his Father’s kingdom. He has promised us—on the condition that we serve him—that we will be where he is, that is, with soul and body in the palace of God’s glory. We will be with him there forever, each of us glorified in the state proper to himself, clad in our works and adorned and perfected in love and virtues. Jesus will reveal to us his glorious countenance, more resplendent than the sun, and we will hear his lovely voice, which is sweeter than any melody. We will sit down at his table and he will serve us (cf. Lk 12:37) as a noble prince serves his beloved family and chosen friends. He will bestow upon us the honor and glory which he has received from his heavenly Father, while we will desire that honor and glory more for him than for ourselves.
Jan van Ruusbroec, A Mirror of Eternal Blessedness, III, C