We need to listen to voices – voices from the past. Giants of the past have amazing insights for us. Sometimes it’s the carefully contemplated words of jurists; sometimes the honest reflections of elected officials. Their words can speak to today’s growing national incivility.
Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, writing an opinion in 1943, affirmed the value of society’s differing opinions. He warned against the “fear that to be intellectually and spiritually diverse, or even contrary, will disintegrate the social organization.”
In his farewell address, President Washington was concerned with what he called “mischiefs of the spirit of party” that undermined America’s needed unity in those days. His words condemn such bitter antipathy: “It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, etc.” Are there echos of that today?
Significantly, Jesus created a powerful lesson about how people of great differences can work together. His choice of disciples underscores this.
The 12 could never be described as a cohesive group – by usual standards. Read the list in Matthew 10:1-4. One wonders what Jesus had in mind when he selected this rag tag bunch to be partners in his ministry – taking his message to the world after Jesus was gone? Note these factors about them.
• The first named of the 12 was Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus. The last named was Judas, who betrayed the master.
• When Jesus was taken to the cross, all but one disciples fled.
• After the resurrection, one disciple, Thomas, wouldn’t accept his colleague’s testimony that Jesus was alive – earning the title, “Doubting Thomas.”
• Four of the disciples were fishermen, quintessential commoners.
• Two disciples were sworn enemies of each another. Matthew was a tax collector, one universally despised by all. Another was Judas, a zealot sworn to kill tax collectors.
• We know so little about some of the others that one could think they were insignificant.
• We’re insufficiently sure of their actual identities that there’s some uncertainty about their names.
From a realistic standpoint, these team members could not make it to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. However, they might well win the Super Bowl. After all, they were the team that birthed Christ’s Church that spread throughout the world.
Granted, Paul gets much credit for evangelizing the Roman world. We must remember, however, that it was the early work of the disciples that made Paul aware of the Christian movement. And we must remember that most places where Paul went to preach, Christians were there before him, nurtured by the disciples.
Before George Washington warned our nation about the dangers of division among citizens, Jesus provided an inspiring object lesson about the power of diversity working together. Celebrate how this diverse group birthed the Christian Church. Hear how this ill-matched 12, chosen by Jesus, became the force of faith that transformed the world.
Molding this cacophony of diverse voices, Jesus created a mighty chorus. Likewise, out of today’s dissonance of religious bickering, racial demonstrations, political posturing, we need to nurture the harmony of ALL people – as they become God’s chorus and our nation’s strength.
I’m convinced Jesus was very deliberative in choosing a group of disciples so diverse that they looked like a cracked, mis-matched old set of dishes. Nevertheless, Jesus understood the potential of combining the many lives and viewpoints into one whole. Out of the diversity was born strength. Or as it says on our nation’s money, e pluribus unum, out of many, one.
Rev. William McCartney is a retired United Methodist minister and a professor emeritus of the Methodist Theological School.