Saint Josaphat of Polotsk – Readings


 Commentary on Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13; Ps 1; John 17:20-26

The Gospel reading is from Jesus’ long discourse at the Last Supper, a passage we find in John’s gospel. The last section of this discourse, chapter 17, consists of a long prayer which Jesus makes: first, on the completion of his own work, second, a prayer for his disciples, and third, a prayer for all believers.
It is this third part of the prayer which forms our reading today. It is above all a prayer for unity among all Jesus’ followers. Even when John’s gospel was written, divisions had already appeared.
So Jesus prays: “I pray for those who will believe in me through their [i.e. his immediate disciples] word, that all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.”
And why does Jesus so especially emphasise this unity? “I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” And he continues, speaking to his Father: “May they be one, as we are one – I living in them, you living in me – that their unity may be complete.” By reason of this unity, “the world will know that you sent me, and that you loved them as you loved me.”
How, then, can people be expected to accept the message of Jesus, when those who claim to be his followers are so deeply divided among themselves, even to the point of violence?
This was the sad situation in Josaphat’s world. It was later the tragic situation in the Reformation, an ongoing process of splintering that has hardly stopped in our own day. It was the scandal in Northern Ireland, although the division was actually more political than religious – but how were outsiders to be aware of that?
Earlier, at the same Last Supper, Jesus had told his disciples to love one another as he was loving them, to the point of giving his life for them. And he added that the sign by which outsiders would recognise his followers would be the love they had for each other. How can there be love without union, or union without love?
It was this universal and unconditional love that Josaphat gave his life to uphold. It is as necessary today as it was then. 

The First Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians speaks in a slightly different way of the conditions for true unity in the Church and among Christians. First there are the elements which bind us together. To begin with we need to live a life that truly reflects the Gospel, with modesty, meekness, patience, bearing with one another in a loving way – the commandment of love, we mentioned above.
Then there is the presence of the Spirit and the binding force of true peace. Under the Spirit, there is one body, one common hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father “who is over all, works through all, and is in all”. These are the elements we must have in common. They give us our unique identity.
At the same time, there is room for a great deal of variety, as each one is called in a different way to serve and build up the community – apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors, teachers and many other ways in which the community can be served.
In this way, we grow together in the faith and knowledge of God’s Son and so “form that perfect human who is Christ come to full stature”.
Let us continue to work for greater unity among all Christians – first, in our own Church and then with members of other churches. The witness of the Gospel depends on it.
 

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