As Jesus journeyed toward Jerusalem, accompanied by twelve he had called to go along with him, he watched this group argue, miss the point, disagree, and generally act like siblings at a family dinner. It’s possible that Jesus could have found twelve people from similar backgrounds, educational experience, religious viewpoint, or occupation but he didn’t. He had a zealot and a tax collector. Fishermen and skeptics. Brothers and betrayers. Despite all these differences, in John’s gospel one of Jesus’ last prayers was that his followers would be “one”. (John 17:20-23). Jesus had seen little evidence that once he was gone the twelve would even communicate with each other, but as he prayed in the garden, he asked that these loved ones would know oneness with God and with each other. That the reality of their kinship would transcend the disunity of their personalities.
As it turns out, these followers did achieve a unity that did not include uniformity. Each went to a different place, ministered in different ways, contributed to the overall spread of the faith and the church, and each died a martyr's death for that faith. While separated in space and focus, they were united in the need to spread the good news to the world, and echo Jesus' prayer that "the world might know." (John 17:23) Unity doesn't require uniformity - which circles back to that phrase "community of diversity."
I suspect that Jesus knew, without the benefit of a Google search engine, that it takes community and opportunity to get to unity. We have to spend some time with each other and get to know each other before we can unite. Unity is unity only when we take the opportunity to display it, otherwise it's simply an abstract concept. The opportunity for unity can be uncomfortable. It comes when the tax collector sits down with the zealot. When the skeptic stays in the room despite the doubt. When the fishermen leave their boats and nets to join a land journey they don't fully understand. When we have to sit side by side on a couch and say "I love you" in times those are the hardest words to say, much less believe. When, despite our differences, we can sit down at table and know we are part of something bigger than our relationship to each other. When we can be united to spread the good news - united "that the world might know."
How does that work? I have no idea. It's a mystery.
- Karen Russell, Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith blog written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship, March 14, 2011.