The gift of fragmentation

Daily Reading for September 7 • The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

The image of division haunts the church. It is the image of the eucharistic sacrament. Yet the church resists. The ideal community, according to the prevailing definition, is a group of like-minded people representing organic and institutional unity. The basis for community—the common bond that holds people together—is, at best, any agenda promising common benefit. Shared self-interest, common gain, is the adhesive of most human community. . . . Fragmentation is the very image of sin. Division is an expression of our weakness. Because we fail to build unity into a massive organic whole, we have failed in our mission. But have we?

As he matured in his faith, Paul saw fragmentation creatively. Fragmentation could be God’s gift to the church, even God’s will for the church. After all, in the broken body of Jesus the two very different peoples—Gentile and Jew—found a way to be together in their differences. Could it be that the very Spirit of God spoils our designs for homogenization in order to build the church of God’s own vision? . . .

The mark of God’s church is fragmentation, the eucharistic mark of brokenness. We are the body of Christ, and our ministry ought to look like him. For the sake of unity and for the making of a new humanity, this body—the church—may find its ministry in rending that forever breaks down walls and rips the Temple veil.

The unity God seeks and the new humanity God is making demand a place where all sorts and conditions can meet and be reconciled. To be that place, in this world, we shall have to be broken. We shall have to be torn from the idols of our own ideals. Our orthodoxy will be ruined, and our purity will be sullied. The stones of our walls of division, the rocks with which we have routed the sinner from our midst, will be reduced to sand. The banquets we have made of our resources and by which we have fed ourselves to fatness will be reduced to crumbs. And not to decide may be the hardest decision of all.

The good news, then, may be that those energies we have given for so long to the vain dream of building sanctuaries of sameness may now be given to meeting one another in all our myriad differentness, where we may know the Christ, who “came and proclaimed peace to [those] who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to [God]” (Ephesians 2:17-18).

From Conflict and a Christian Life by Sam Portaro. Copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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