Moving Forward: A Gospel View of Community

Although we in the US are no strangers to political and social division, the divisions exposed by the death of Trayvon Martin and trial of George Zimmerman seem especially raw.  They speak to long-simmering conflicts of the past and present, never fully reconciled.  Spiritually, I have struggled in a very personal way with how we move forward together.  In many ways, I often feel caught between two worlds: the white, middle-class world of my upbringing, and the ever-expanding world of my work and ministry.  But this conflict is at least tempered by being rooted in choice.  My non-white friends and relatives are born into a much greater conflict of belonging.  This consciousness now touches my own life in a much more real way, as I wonder about my eighteen-week-old son, whose complexion more and more matches that of his Hispanic mother.  What world do I hope exists for him as he grows?

I think that the answer lies in Jesus' view of community.  When we take a hard look at ourselves through the lens of the Gospel, we begin to see how our sense of community does not quite meet the bar set by God.  The movement of unyielding love that we now call the Church was built by pushing the definition of community outward.  Jesus began his ministry in a synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, but quickly moved out to a synagogue in Capernaum, and then to the home of Simon, and then across Judea.  His community included first his fellow Jews in the temple, but soon also included fishermen, lepers, paralytics, tax collectors, Samaritans, Gentiles, Romans, even his enemies - anyone willing to be in relationship with him.  It was a community that he not only wanted others to join, but one which he and his disciples built with others - staying in their homes and eating meals at their tables.

It was not a movement built simply on opening the doors and waiting for people to enter.  Of course, the doors were open and people did enter, but Jesus did not sit around waiting for that to happen.  I think that we miss this a lot in our own spiritual lives.  Even those of us that strive to model the immense inclusiveness of Jesus often forget that this was an active inclusiveness, a sense of going out and joining with.  While I like to think that Jesus would have welcomed me into his home, the greater expression of God's love is that I know he would have wanted to enter mine.  He would have wanted  to spend time with me and my wife and son, to share meals with us, to enter into our world as members of our family and community.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once described 11:00 am on Sunday morning as "the most segregated hour in America."  While now our church doors are open to all, I wonder whether we do the actual Christian work of including all - of not only welcoming but also seeking to be welcomed.  Maryknoll strives to be a part of that building of community across the globe, but we never forget that community also includes everything in between.  And opening the doors is only the first step in building it.  We need to walk through our own doors and knock on somebody else's, for no other reason than to have a relationship.  Can we be so bold, so willing, so Christian as to seek the margins of our own community, and keep building outward until they no longer exist?