Spread the Word: One Body, Many Members
By Robert Barton
Often, when meditating upon the Apostles, I am struck by the differences among them. These men (and, I am sure, women who, unfortunately, time has forgotten) came from different walks of life, struggled with different theological beliefs, and were often contrary and combative with one another. But among all these differences, none strikes me more than the dichotomy between Matthew and Simon the Zealot.
As a tax collector, Matthew was a traitor to the Jewish people. He made his living by extorting money out of them for the Roman empire, so he worked closely with what today would be called an “occupying force.” As such he would have been despised by his own people and would have been regarded as little more than a pawn by his Roman masters. This was a man who was willing to give up his own for profit. A man who turned his back on his people, tradition and faith in order to secure security and privilege for himself.
On the other hand, Simon (the other Simon, not Simon Peter) was a zealot. A militant. A radical. Zealots opposed the Roman occupation of Israel through quick and sudden violence, revolt and guerrilla warfare. The crosses that routinely lined the hillsides of Judea were stained with the blood of zealots. Today we might label them “terrorists.” They would call themselves “freedom fighters.” They were men and women of extreme religious belief who believed the only way to free themselves from the grasp of the Romans was through shedding blood. They enjoyed targeting tax collectors. One can easily imagine Simon, his knife sharpened to a fine edge, quietly sneaking up to Matthew as he sat at the receipt of custom and slitting his throat. One more body for the cause.
But, of course, that is not what happened. Matthew did not fall prey to the zealot’s knife. Simon did not kill his sell-out brother of Israel. Instead, traitor and radical came together, made one by the call of Jesus Christ. And through that call, all difference was set aside and all dichotomy was healed as the two men were led by the Lord of all, instructed in the Kingdom of God.
These two individuals, who in any other circumstance would have almost certainly hated each other, became members of one Body, united and reconciled by the saving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They were freed from what divided them, freed through the uniting call of God’s only begotten Son.
Today all of us must heed that call. Our world is fractured. Party lines have been drawn. The battle has begun. The secular world, enslaved by ideology, politics and the all-consuming fight for power, is ripping itself apart. The Church must not follow suit. The Church must stand apart, citizens of a different world, a heavenly country – the Kingdom of God. That is our rightful home. As Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon say, Christians are resident aliens – strangers and sojourners – and we must live into that identity in the face of a fallen world that seeks only to tear us apart.
The secular world, enslaved by ideology, politics and the all-consuming fight for power, is ripping itself apart. The Church must not follow suit.
As we seek to move together in the work of proclaiming and living the Gospel of our Lord, it is of paramount importance that we be in community with one another as we encounter those we seek to reach. The world breaks people under its wheels on a daily basis, and the only face presented to a hurting populace is one of all-consuming greed, fractious and ruinous creeds, and tribalism. Not only do politicians refuse to reach across the aisle, now it is often the same for friends. We allow ourselves to be separated by the color of our vote, and the lines of our party.
The Church cannot let this happen.
Evangelism is more than proclaiming the Gospel. It is living out the Gospel. And part of that living out is refusing to be divided from our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of their theology, denomination or they way they vote. When we reach out to hurting and sin-sick souls who need the Gospel like the dying need a physician, we are offering them a different way of life. We are offering them the Way of Life. We are offering them salvation. Salvation from despair, anguish, suffering, greed, hopelessness, despondency, addiction, fear and hate. Salvation from emptiness. Salvation from secularism. Salvation from division.
If we are divided among ourselves, what does that say about the message we hope to bring to those who desperately need it?
We are offering people the fullness of life as found in Jesus Christ and as it manifests itself through the Church, the Communion of Saints past, present and future. If we are divided among ourselves, what does that say about the message we hope to bring to those who desperately need it? If we can’t be one with each other, how do we ever hope to be one with those outside the Christian community?
The world grows darker daily. Reading or watching the news, signing on to social media, staring in shock at each new outrage, massacre, bombing and scandal, one would be excused for thinking that we are witnessing the gates of Hell unleashed upon earth. Yet the gates of Hell have no power over the Church. We already know how the story ends, and it doesn’t look good for the enemy. The Church must be stand forth as salt and light, equipped with nothing but the Gospel. Equipped with nothing but love. The world needs us. It needs us to be the Church.
We are called to a mighty work, and at times it can seem daunting. But we must not lose faith. The suffering stand outside. The addicted stand outside. The broken, fallen and hurting stand outside. We must reach them. We must feed them. We must bring them home. And when we do, we must raise up a shout of joy and a resounding Alleluia! For there is nothing sweeter than a human being reconciled with God. Nothing greater than the Gospel. Nothing stronger than salvation.
So, let us learn from Matthew and Simon and throw aside whatever separates us, be it politics, ideology or anything else that a fallen world can manufacture. Our common cause and our common confession are all we need. All has been made one in Christ Jesus. So let us live like it.
The time for division is over.
Robert Barton, a lay servant of St. Mark’s, Springfield, is a writer, student, and member of the Green Mountain Witness Team.