Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day Seven, “Walking in Solidarity”Jan 24th, 2013 | By Tom Brown | Category: Blog Posts
It is Day 7 of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (Tomorrow will mark the eighth and final day of the ‘Week.’) Today we continue our reflections on the daily themes and Scripture readings offered by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Today’s readings have us considering the importance of solidarity for achieving Christian unity. The word solidarity refers to the unity of purpose or the bonds of fellowship between members of a group of people. To be in solidarity with someone is to be united to that person’s intentions or needs, as well as to others similarly situated. While the term has picked up a modern connotation within the field of social philosophy (one can recall the Polish “Solidarity” trade union, for instance), it is perfectly politically neutral in the realm of Christian ethics.
The difficulty of achieving solidarity depends largely on the composition and size of the group of people with whom we mean to have a unity of purpose. Solidarity with our set of siblings, in most cases, is relatively easy. Generally speaking, the members of the group have a common background and historical frame, have been instilled with the same set of values, and often share common ambitions. To take another example, solidarity is easily achieved by those facing common adversity, such as soldiers in battle. They are powerfully bonded by complex common purposes: survival, defeat of the enemy, proving courage, and pride. The St. Crispin’s Day speech of Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fifth evokes the depth of this solidarity felt between fellow soldiers:
This story shall the good mean teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,–
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurst they were not here;
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (Act IV, Scene III.)
But when we expand the size of the group, strains on the bonds of solidarity begin to appear. That is because a larger pool of people — besides being more likely to have its oddballs and malcontents — will have persons harboring individual ambitions that do not quite match the group’s common purpose. So of course we expect Easy Company to be more closely knit than the entire 101st Airborne Division. Similarly, when we eliminate the common purpose (like by removing a group’s common adversity), solidarity is lost. Here we expect Easy Company on D-Day to have more unit cohesion than an infantry company facing a shapeless enemy and an incongruous strategy.
This is precisely why the parable of the Good Samaritan, today’s Gospel reading, is so striking. Many of us learned from a very young age in Sunday School that Samaritans and Jews did not get along — hated each other even. They lacked solidarity. With this well-known parable, Jesus stretches wide open the scope of our obligation to love our neighbor. He is not tricked by the questioning lawyer, the one seeking to whittle away at his own moral responsibilities. We must love our neighbors, even our enemies, as we love ourselves.
So what does solidarity have to do with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and its theme question, “What does the Lord require of us?” If we are to be in solidarity with our enemies, it follows, a fortiori, that the Lord requires us to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, after reading Jesus’ expectation for love of neighbor as explained in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we could almost anticipate the close solidarity of the early Church as recorded in Acts 2: 43-47. This is the beautiful and inspiring “koinonia” passage:
And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The early Church was “together and had all things in common” because of the depth of their solidarity. Outcast from their Jewish roots, and facing mortal persecution at the hands of the state, they faced the gravest of adversities. They were bonded by the Holy Spirit, given at Pentecost. They were united in purpose as well: propagating the Gospel for the salvation of souls and the redemption of the whole world.
How different this seems from the divided Christians today. We are no band of brothers, hardened and ready for battle. We lack a common purpose, and do not stand with each other through adversity. I am not suggesting that we achieve the solidarity of the early Church by ignoring our differences, of course. But by identifying our common purpose, and by committing to face adversity shoulder-to-shoulder, we can develop bonds of unity with each other strong enough to face the prince of darkness himself.
BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS AND PRAYERS FOR THE ‘EIGHT DAYS’
Day 7 Walking in solidarity Readings Numbers 27: 1-11 The right of inheritance to daughters Psalm 15 Who shall abide in God’s sanctuary? Acts 2: 43-47 The disciples held all things in common Luke 10: 25-37 The Good Samaritan
To walk humbly with God means walking in solidarity with all who struggle for justice and peace. This poses a question for those who pray for the unity of Christians this week: what is the unity we seek? The Faith and Order Commission, which includes the members of the fellowship of the World Council of Churches as well as the Catholic Church, understands unity as “visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship.” The ecumenical movement is dedicated to overcome the historic and current barriers that divide Christians, but it does so with a vision of visible unity that links the nature and mission of the Church in the service of the unity of humankind and the overcoming of all that harms the dignity of human beings and keeps us apart. As Faith and Order has said:
The Church is called and empowered to share the suffering of all by advocacy and care for the poor, the needy and the marginalised. This entails critically analysing and exposing unjust structures, and working for their transformation… This faithful witness may involve Christians themselves in suffering for the sake of the Gospel.The Church is called to heal and reconcile broken human relationships and to be God’s instrument in the reconciliation of human division and hatred (Nature and Mission of the Church).
There are many examples of such acts of healing and reconciliation by the Indian churches. Until very recently, Christian inheritance laws in India disempowered daughters. The churches supported the demand for a repeal of this archaic law. The story of the daughters of Zelophehad, in which Moses turned to God for justice in support of the rights of the daughters, was invoked to demand justice for women. Thus, Dalit Christians have been moved in their struggles for justice by such biblical witness.
A biblical image of Church united in solidarity with the oppressed is Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan. Like the Dalits, the Good Samaritan is from a despised and outcast community, who is the one in the story who cares for the man abandoned by the wayside, and who proclaims by his solidarity in action, the hope and comfort of the Gospel. The walk towards Christian unity is inseparable from walking humbly with God in solidarity with any and all in need of justice and kindness.
Triune God, in your very life you offer us a unique pattern of interdependence, loving relationships and solidarity. Unite us to live our lives in this way. Teach us to share the hope that we find in people who struggle for life all over the world. May their endurance inspire us to overcome our own divisions, to live in holy accord with one another, and to walk together in solidarity. God of life, lead us to justice and peace. Amen.
- Who in your community stands in need of the solidarity of the Christian community?
- What churches are, or have been in solidarity with you?
- In what ways would more visible Christian unity enhance the Church’s solidarity with those who stand in need of justice and kindness in your context?