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THE VALUE OF CONFLICT

Father Francis's picture
Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Saint Paul was greatly concerned to preserve the unity of the church at Corinth. He believed like many of us do that doctrinal and liturgical divisions among Christians are an embarrassment if not a scandal. After all, we all worship the same God, follow the same Lord and read the same Bible. How can the world take us seriously when we cannot get our act together within the church?

Yet despite Paul's great concern for the unity of the church he recognised the value of conflict. He was not ready to paper over their differences in some sort of shallow compromise for the mere appearance of unity. Rather, he was willing to let controversy run its course, because he believed that truth would emerge out of the conflict.

Paul was a wise man and he never showed greater wisdom than in this way of handling divisions within the church. It would have been so easy for him to ‘lay down the law’ and demand that they follow his interpretation of the faith. But as certain as Paul was of his own religious experience and divine calling, he never claimed exclusive authority for his own theology. He recognised that the faithful followers of Christ taught the truth and served the Lord, even if they did not fully agree with him. Therefore Paul was willing to let division within the church run their course as long as Christ was not dishonoured and lives were not ruined by the conflict. He believed that that truth and righteousness would prevail if people were honest in their beliefs and open in their disagreements.

The touching story of Jesus’ compassion for the plight of a centurion, who was a Gentile, is told by Saint Luke in today's Gospel reading. It matters not to Jesus in the least whether this person is a Jew or a Gentile. All that matters is that he is someone in need. This military officer knew from experience the power of authority, and he recognised that power in Jesus: it was understandable, therefore, that he should tell Jesus that by His word alone He could cure his slave. Like Jesus, we have to admire the centurion's faith. This should bolster our own confidence in Jesus in our time of need.

Lord Jesus, before Holy Communion when we say the words of the centurion - Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and my soul will be healed - may our faith in You be as strong as his was, and may we assure You of our wish to remain faithful to you.

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