The Cross: Symbol of Reconciliation and Unity
Our readings this Sunday proclaim a clear message, prophecy is fulfilled in the person of Christ Jesus. The evangelist Matthew recalls the words of the prophet Isaiah that the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali are lands settled by foreigners. Isaiah calls these lands “a place of darkness” because in his time they were densely populated by non-believers, people who Isaiah would have referred to as pagans. For Isaiah, the few faithful Israelites remaining in these lands had difficulty holding onto their ancestral faith and traditions.
In the time of Jesus this same area was renamed Galilee, “Galilee of the Gentiles” as we hear in the Gospel. Though mostly populated by the Israelites, Galilee was surrounded by those they considered non-believers or Gentiles. They were looked down upon by many of the Jewish people because they feared the other, the pagan cultural influences that would weaken their faith.
In the time of Jesus, this region of Galilee had also become an occupied territory. Conquered by Rome and ruled by the Roman, Herod Antipas. We know him through the scriptures as “Herod the Tetrarch” or King Herod, whose brutality and intolerance of anyone who threatened his power, was legendary.
Jesus, the Christ, entered into an ethnically diverse land that was filled with mistrust and suspicion of those who were seen as different and suspect. It was also a society manipulated by oppression, violence, hatred and death.
Jesus came in simplicity and humility proclaiming a Kingdom of hope, light and justice for all people. Yet divisions, rivalries, and suspicion were evident even among those who would come to believe in Christ and formed one of the earliest Christian communities in Corinth. Paul, disheartened by the news from Corinth wrote insisting, “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose…so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.” The cross of Christ, Crucified Love, is the symbol of reconciliation and unity.
The World Council of Churches has chosen the theme, Reconciliation-The Love of Christ Compels Us for this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25, 2017). This week marks the 500th anniversary year of the beginnings of the Reformation. The resource for worship published by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches states, “The love of Christ compels us to pray, but also to move beyond our prayers for unity among Christians. Congregations and churches need the gift of God’s reconciliation as a wellspring of life. But above all, they need it for their common witness to the world…The world needs ministers of reconciliation, who will break down barriers, build bridges, make peace, and open doors to new ways of life in the name of the one who reconciled us to God, Jesus Christ…May people and churches be compelled by the love of Christ to live reconciled lives and to break down the walls that divide!”
Our Franciscan charism and spirituality calls us to be Christic peacemakers, instruments of peace. Francis of Assisi was truly a man of peace and reconciliation. Francis lived, embodied, and witnessed the person of Jesus Christ by breaking down barriers and seeing all people and all creation as sister and brother. In doing so, Francis became visibly marked by the wounds of Divine Love, the stigmata. May we be the visible instruments of God’s presence opening doors to reconciliation, creating new relationships and new ways of building up the Kingdom of God.
Margaret Magee, OSF
FAN Board President
Take time this week to use the resource from the World Council of Churches and pray for unity among all Christians.
May we be the visible instruments of God’s presence opening doors to reconciliation and building up the Kingdom of God here on Earth, we pray…
For Pope Francis and all church leaders. May they walk humbly before us as the example of Christ, we pray…
Almighty ever-living God,
Direct our actions according to your good pleasure,
That in the name of your beloved Son
We may abound in good works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One god, for ever and ever.