One of the popular and challenging hymns often sung during liturgy at the Parish of St. Vincent de Paul in Albany, NY is “Go Make a Difference.” It calls us to be voices of peace, lights to the world; reaching out to those in need. It is not easy to make such a difference in the world these days.
It may be helpful to look back a bit to see how far we have come as we plot what our next steps might be to implement the values Jesus of Nazareth taught and practiced. The situation described in today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles (14:21-27) is a place to start.
Paul and Barnabas worked hard to spread Christianity in Anatolia, present day Turkey. In the middle of the first century that region of the Mediterranean was once called the cradle of civilization.
Under Roman rule the area was prosperous and secure. A theocratic form of government combined obedience to the gods (Zeus and Apollo) with loyalty to the emperor. It was quite a challenge to live as Christians at that time and welcome new members into the community.
Today about 95% of the population in Turkey is Muslim with the majority practicing Sunni Islam. Although Christians have lived there for two thousand years political scientist Ramazan Kılınç writes “their future is uncertain.” Why is it such a problem for Muslims and Christians to live together with the same liberties and benefits without fear of higher taxes, prejudice, or retaliation?
Sean C. Peters, CSJ, wrote recently about looking back at the past and forward to what is to come. “I definitely want to leave behind any sense of powerlessness, the feeling that I make no difference in our world … believing that my actions have no effect in the ‘global marketplace’ lets me off the hook — allows me to pull back into a life aimed more at my own comfort.”1 
Christians and people of other faith traditions believe that God dwells with us, that God walks with us along our journeys. With God “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain for the old order has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-5a) Quaker scholar C. Wess Daniels described the new order. “This is the empire of God that is seen replacing the empire of Rome … in the new city, God dwells.”
Many have tried to replace the old order with a new one that stresses service to humanity. Pope Francis, for example, has introduced measures to reform the the governing body in the Vatican. He intends to make it a reflection of the “image of Christ’s own mission of love.”
The pope indicated a need to “provide for the involvement of laymen and women … in roles of governance and responsibility.” It is an invitation to participate in the Synod on Synodality — to raise the voices of the faithful people of God, to make a difference in the life of the church.
Behind those voices is the Golden Rule repeated in today’s gospel. (John 13:31-33a, 34-35) “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This commandment includes everyone, our families, friends and even our enemies. (John 3:16)
Lutheran pastor Elizabeth Johnson reminds us that the context for this gospel passage is the last supper. Jesus realizes his hour has come and he also knows Judas, Peter and others will soon betray him.
Jesus was most likely disappointed, thinking that his message of truth, justice, and love would be forgotten. To refresh their memories, in an act of humility, he washes their dirty feet and then, at the table, tells them “do this in memory of me.”
Although some think he was just referring to the continuation of the eucharistic meal, he was also saying feed the hungry, clothe the naked, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, visit the sick, give hope to prisoners, love your enemies.
“These are not easy options for Christians,” insists Dominican Adrian McCaffery, but … “rather mandates; they are imperatives; they are characteristic of the kind of life, the kind of love Christ is talking about here … We either love as Christians or cease to be what we are, or what God calls us to be.”
Elizabeth Johnson agrees. In her words: “Jesus could not be clearer: It is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts—acts of service and sacrifice, acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ.”
We have come a long way in all these years. Our voices and actions do matter. Go, make a difference!
1 Peters, Sean C. “What I’m Carrying into the Future” in Carondelet, May 2022, Vol 7, 17