That They May Be One
The Babe born in Bethlehem accomplished what Caesar in Rome could not do with all his legions of soldiers.
Pax Romana. The Roman Peace. This is the term that historians use for the worldwide rule of the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries. It was “peace” in the way that the schoolyard has peace when one big bully controls all the lesser bullies: no one fights anyone else because they’re all afraid of a beatdown from the baddest boy in the whole town.
The Romans prided themselves on the peace and unity they brought to the world. They built roads and aqueducts; they policed the land and sea, thus allowing for relatively safe travel; they established a common monetary system, enhancing economic opportunities; and they brought the whole world into the cult of Roman emperor worship. What could be better than “one king to rule them all”? Anyway, resistance was futile. As long as a centurion could find a couple pieces of wood, he could crucify as many dissidents as needed.
The Romans brought stability, safety, and world unity—all at the end of a spear point.
It was into this Pax Romana that Jesus Christ was born. Superficially, society may have looked unified and peaceful. But below the surface was terrible turmoil, seething resentment, fear, anger, and division. Romans looked down on Greeks, Greeks looked down on barbarians, and everyone looked down on the Jews. Even among the Jews, Pharisee despised Sadducee, Zealots planned rebellion, while Essenes turned up their holy noses at the whole bunch and withdrew to the desert.
Who could ever bring true unity and peace to such a world?
And yet … if all things come from the one and only God, if all that exists is the product of a single Divine Mind, then there must be within everything an inherent unity; there must be in all people an innate brotherhood, as sons and daughters of the same Father in heaven. The Greek philosophers recognized this, and so they spoke of the logos spermatikos, the seminal principle, the Thought-Seed, that was inside all things and every person. All things could be, should be in harmony. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you love yourself, this should be easy as pie, since at the deepest level your neighbor is yourself. He or she, like you, is the embodiment of the image of God. Where did the world go wrong?
Far from enjoying our innate unity as God’s children, what we find instead is a planet full of people making divisions, building barriers, coining shibboleths, judging skin tones, … finding any and every way to feel distinct from and superior to the human beings around us. Roman society, for all its political unity, was polarized in dozens of ways: citizen against non-citizen, soldier against civilian, freeman against slave, race against race and tribe against tribe.
And yet … mankind still pines for that primordial peace in unity. We ache for shalom. We yearn for the Kingdom of God. You can hear it in our music, see it in our art, watch it in our movies from around the world. The desire for true connection, for mutual knowledge, for genuine oneness—it is the perennial theme of the human heart.
Into this world of longing and fighting, Jesus came, the Logos Himself. He came to flatten every wall of separation among mankind, to break down every barrier to our unity in God. He began with the greatest divide there could be: the chasm between spirit and flesh, between Creator and creature, between divine and human. In Himself, He bonded God and man together; and having healed that division, He overcame every other breach as well. Saint Paul tells the Ephesians (1:9-10): “For God has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to his purpose which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Jesus Christ is unity restored, peace regained. Not like the peace of Rome, but true peace in every direction He gives to us, and He is for us.
In the kingdom of Caesar, it was man against man to the death, both in the gladiators’ stadium and in regular life. In the Kingdom of Christ, we sit at the Lord’s table and feast in harmony: slave with master, Jew with Greek, male and female unsegregated, races and tribes mixing freely, king consorting with commoners.
This is the Pax Christi, the Peace of Christ. At comes not at the point of a spear, but freely, from a heart of love. The Roman peace fell apart after a few centuries. The Kingdom of Christ shall have no end.
May we know His peace and unity more and more. And so at Christmas we sing that final verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:
O come, Desire of the nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease and fill the world with heaven's peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel, to thee shall come Emmanuel!
To you and yours, and to all the world, Peace on earth, goodwill among men.
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