12 Pentecost, August 20
The descent of the Holy Spirit creates a community bound together by a common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, common practices in Temple worship, the Eucharist and prayers, and a common sharing of resources distributed according to need. As recorded in the Book of Acts, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the Temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2:42, 44-47).
Sadly, bonds of affection and shared faith are often and easily broken. Jesus, anticipating our weakness, prayed that we might be completely one as he and the Father are one (John 17:23). Indeed, unity is something to be fostered and protected, nourished, and cultivated. And so the Apostle Paul spent much of his energy founding churches and then trying desperately to keep them together. He scolds the Church in Galatia: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-7).
Unity requires continual repentance, amendment of life, and a firm resolve to build up love and trust. This is especially difficult when a serious breach in charity has occurred, where bitterness, suspicions, fear, and animosity linger.
A dividing wall of hostility, it seems, will only fall when there is forgiveness and tears. We see this so dramatically in the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, is on occasion sent to observe his brothers shepherding their flock and gives a bad report about them. Moreover, he has dreams that predict his father and brothers bowing down to him, which, in foolhardy fashion, he openly shares. His brothers hate him and plot to kill him but then decide to sell him instead. Joseph is enslaved in Egypt, where he rises in prominence precisely because of his dreams and interpretations. Predicting a long famine and how to prepare for it, Joseph is rewarded by Pharoah and made second in command in all the kingdom. Eventually, hearing that there is food in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers go there, and unknowingly, they come into the presence of the brother they sold into captivity.
What happens is profoundly moving. “Then Joseph could no longer control himself … he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive? But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. … Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him” (Gen. 45:1-4; 14-15). Real reconciliation is hard work, emotional, and even frightening. Still, restored unity is a beautiful thing. It is like fine oil upon the head that runs down upon the beard, like the moist breeze that baptized the hills of Zion with a quiet morning dew (Ps. 133).
Look It Up: Psalm 133
Think About It: Unity is a blessing.