Today’s second reading (1 Cor. 1.10-13, 17) says that even among the first Christians there was division and disagreement. This passage speaks to our divided times in the West. On the day that I write this I read in the newspaper that the incoming U.S. president has the lowest approval ratings of any newly elected president. In fact, 44% said they disapproved of him. Here in the U.K. the fault lines revealed by the Brexit vote are still there. Across Europe there is debate, some of it bitter, on the issues of our day.
St Paul reminds us that the Good News of Jesus Christ is always with us, even at times of division. But he goes on to say that the crucifixion of Christ cannot be expressed in terms of the philosophy, the fashionable thinking of the day. So we have a double challenge. On the one hand, to find a unity in Christ. On the other hand, to speak about him in a way that makes sense to the world around us, but without minimising the challenge of the cross.
Our unity in Christ: one of the advances in recent years has been the sense of common purpose between Christians of different traditions. I remain, myself, convinced of the truth taught by the Catholic Church through the ages. But when I meet Christians of other traditions, I do not think first, that they are wrong, or deluded, or imperfect. I think, instead, of what we have in common. I can also be inspired, or challenged, or grow in understanding, by getting to know fellow Christians from different backgrounds. So in this time of division, we can find common purpose as Christians in meeting the challenges of our time: poverty, loneliness, injustice. We know that Our Lord asks this of us.
But then there is the other challenge. The Lord we speak of died on the cross. To be perfectly blunt, there is a bracing challenge here for us. The cross brings into question our priorities both as individuals and as a culture. It stands above our self-seeking. The cross speaks of God prepared to set everything aside out of love, to set aside even, in Christ, life itself. We all tend to crave luxury, or fashion, or at the very least we want to impress others. Some people want power – perhaps a particular temptation for politicians - yet the cross speaks of powerlessness. In these and many other ways the cross cuts across the culture of our times. It invites us to find different priorities. It tells us that God is to be found among the suffering of the world. And it tells us that God forgives and invites us to do the same when we are bitter, resentful or divided. To find a new unity in him.