Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; 1 John 4:11-16; John 17:11b-19
The theme of conflict between the Christian disciple and the world is very clear in this passage. Raymond Brown remarked that a passage such as this has “a message for an era that becomes naively optimistic about changing the world or even about affirming its values without change.” The ‘world’ in this case is not, of course, the natural world of mountains, rivers, trees… but all the worldly forces that are antagonistic to the Kingdom of God (and even to the natural world).
“If people only knew with what lack of wisdom the world is governed!” someone said long ago. Today most people do know. When greed masquerades as ideology, there are people who are willing and able to point it out. When crowds of people protest at stolen elections the world sees it (or some version of it) on TV. Today it is harder to hide than it has ever been. This is true at the individual level too. Anyone who has ever had a moment’s clear insight into their own dark side knows that we cannot afford to be naive about the struggle to live a Christian life.
The ‘world’ isn’t only out there; it is within us. We have within us all the powers of resistance to the Gospel. Unless I have had a clear insight into the snake-pit at the bottom of my soul, and look into that pit where fear and aggression are the same; unless I have observed how I hiss and spit when I am really cornered; and unless I see how I cover it all over with a veneer of politeness, I will not be fit to combat the evil around me. We also know about projection today: I am capable of fighting evil out there because I don’t have the courage or honesty to look at the evil within me. And I make the world look really bad so that my ego will look correspondingly good.
This is not to privatise evil. Don’t worry: there are billions of other egos out there!
“They do not belong to the world,” Jesus said. This ego-world is not our true nature, it is not our true identity. It is a divisive spirit, and the source of all divisiveness. The ego exists always in opposition. Since it is false, it cannot establish itself except in opposition to something else. But Jesus prayed to the Father for us: “that they may be one as we are one.”
By Donagh O’Shea