How do we become one? How does a fragmented world come to enjoy an adequate measure of togetherness and unity? This is easier said than done. Authentic unity—genuine communion—cannot be forced. But when it happens, it is clearly a treasure.
When I write these words, I cannot help but think of what I read in the news. The examples, of course, are legion. They include the political and ideological fragmentation in Washington, the fragmentation in the Middle East, the community of Ferguson, and this week especially, the fragmentation at the University of Oklahoma owing to the disgraceful actions of members of a fraternity.
After lunch today, as I returned to my office, I was walking with the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. I could not resist asking him to reflect with me on what it will take for healing, reconciliation, and restoration to unfold in the lives of all who were affected by the actions of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma. The fragmentation that we see in our world each and every day still shocks me, and the magnitude of racism sickens me.
How do we respond? Where do we go from here? Where resides the action of justice, hope, and healing?
All of the Gospels have stories of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. John’s story conveys unique, timely insight. I would like to focus on two complementary features of John’s Gospel. The first involves broad brushstrokes. John’s Gospel is about the fulfillment of creation and the action of creativity. The Gospel of John is the only Gospel that begins with an echo from Genesis 1 that reverberates throughout the entire Gospel: In the beginning was the word!
There are several ways that John signals that his Gospel involves the fulfillment of creation that unfolds in the creative action of Jesus. After the Prologue, John portrays seven miracles which serve both as echoes of the seven-day creation story in Genesis 1 as well as signs pointing to Jesus. Those seven signs are the Wedding at Cana, the Healing of the Official’s Son, the Healing of the Paralytic, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the Walking on Water, the Healing of the Man Born Blind, and the Resurrection of Lazarus. Each is the partial embodiment of the mystery of creativity. Together, they point to the creative action of Jesus.
The other component does not involve broad brush strokes; it involves an image—fragments. John focuses on gathering up the fragments after the meal.
Fragments are an important concept, an important insight. A fragment is a piece of something that is completely severed and disconnected. To be fragmented is to be in pieces, to be broken up, or broken apart. When a family becomes fragmented, the unity and the sense of communion are absent. When a community becomes fragmented, the people are alienated from each other. They become alienated from their sense of commonality or their mutual sense of purpose. When a team becomes fragmented, the members of the team are no longer pulling for each other or the greater good.
What leads to fragmentation? There may be lots of things. I may stop seeing other people as people—fellow human beings. I may instead see people as objects. When I see people as objects, I cease to care about them as people or to treat them respectfully. Instead, I invent excuses that I use to justify my wrong actions.
I may also see myself and what I want as more important than what others want. Or I may see my way as superior to other people’s ways. Or I may want to dominate others, or to receive more recognition than others.
I mentioned the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. One of the things he treasures is the success of other people. He celebrates others’ success, and he does so selflessly.
If I can celebrate the success of others and do so as a matter of habit, I can help, as John’s story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand says, begin to gather up the fragments and create the possibility of a unified whole.
So where is the hope? One of the insights of the quantum physicist David Bohm is that each fragment of the universe embodies the totality of the whole. This is true at the implicate, or quantum level. The totality of existence is an ever-present reality that each fragment embodies.
This is why it is important that I celebrate the success of another human being. This is why, when looking at another human being, it is important that I see a fellow human being—not an object to be devalued, depreciated, slandered, victimized, abused, or violated. A human being merits the greatest of respect, gentleness, and kindness because that person is a fellow human being who is created in the image of God.
In John’s story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus is calling upon us to join him in taking responsibility for gathering up fragments—people whose lives are fragmented, shattered, broken, or ripped apart. John’s Gospel is calling on is to use our imaginations and to see the totality of life embodied in each fragment—including the creative action of Jesus, the resurrection and the life. That is the action that heals a broken, fragmented world through the justice of mercy and forgiveness of the action of creative love.
It is an astonishing gift.