Ordinary 3C – January 27, 2013 -What Does God Want Us To Do?
What does God want us to do? That was the theme for this year’s Week of Church Unity, which ended this past Friday. It is a huge question isn’t it. There are enough things to think about when it comes to what others want us to do without worrying about what God wants.
So why is this theme important at a time when we pray for Christian unity? The Catholic ecumenical movement formally began in our time with the Vatican Two Ecumenical Council. During the past fifty years there has been an ever growing understanding and appreciation of other religions. Success stories include many dialogues on doctrinal issues, joint statements on scripture, baptism and ministry and collaboration on social justice issues. A good example is happening this coming Tuesday. The Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS is sponsoring an interfaith rally on the capitol steps at Noon to lobby for an increase in the minimum wage.
However, are Christian churches any further along in really becoming more united? Today there are signs that the ecumenical movement is waning. It could be set back by a new enthusiasm on the part of religions (like ours) to overemphasize their denominational identity and how they differ from other Christian churches. Other areas that constrict unity are those dealing with bio-ethics and socio-ethics. Christian churches are not of one mind on issues like stem cell research, same sex marriage, reproductive rights and gun control.
Is it possible to strive for unity among all baptized Christians when there is still so much diversity? The second reading today provides us with much to think about in this regard. Paul is writing to the Gentiles living in Corinth. They were a diverse group made up of rich and poor people. Paul is responding to concerns that the congregation was divided over issues like appropriate Christian conduct and the marginalization of disadvantaged members. “Specifically Paul is critical of those who boast that they possess special religious wisdom or knowledge.” Some claimed to have spiritual gifts that gave them higher spiritual status than others. Others felt they were already “reigning” with God. 
Paul uses the human body as a metaphor for the church and to illustrate that unity and diversity are not incompatible. Paul stresses the importance of diversity and thus the interdependence of the body’s members upon each other. Each member of the body has a role to play which is indispensable.  That’s a reference to you and me.
The ecumenical movement began with an eagerness to share the gifts of different Christian churches with one another. This enthusiasm also prompted religions to take a look at themselves with an eye to interior reformation. Interdependence among Christian communions has not been fully realized because of the differences that continue to divide us. Academics see these tensions as opportunities for further research and dialogue. In the meantime the ecumenical movement among Christians as well as relationships with other faiths will move forward as long as prophetic voices continue to challenge assumptions and help all of us see organized religions in a whole new light.
In today’s gospel from Luke we heard about Jesus teaching in the temple to the amazement of the elders. Like Isaiah Jesus was announcing, to all who would listen, that he is taking his place in history as a prophetic voice — preaching, healing and delivering the oppressed to freedom. We will hear the rest of this story in next week’s section about how the same elders did not like what they heard. They became angry with Jesus and tried to run him out of town. 
There are prophetic voices in all religions today. They are the men and women who challenge us to imagine the possibilities for the future; to set aside the pessimism of the past. Not all of them are recognized. In our church for example the voices of Jon Sobrino, Elizabeth Johnson, Tony Flannery, Roger Haight, Roy Bourgeois, Margaret Farley and Ivone Gebara have been met with suspicion and penalty. The voices of these faith-filled members of the Church, like all other members, require dialogue and self-examination.
We live in an age when it is no longer possible or advantageous for one religion to dominate everyone’s thinking. It is a time, however, when we can learn from the faith, the teachings and the good work of other traditions without forsaking our own. Thus, the diversity of religious practice and doctrine today is healthy. Religious institutions like ours can continue to dialog amongst ourselves and with others. We can study, do good work and pray together. We can also serve as advocates for human rights, peace and justice for all. That is where our common bond lies and it may be just what God is asking us to do.
1 Furnish, Victor Paul in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, p. 1949
2 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 447-450
3 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 54