The 2008 Beijing Olympics are over. Athletes have returned home. Those with medals are making public appearances and raking in endorsements.
We have moved on too and are focusing again on the presidential election and political conventions. At the same time, we have come away with a whole new set of Olympic memories we will add to those we’ve accumulated over the years.
For me, some of the strongest images are not from athletic feats, but from the opening ceremony—a lavish, jaw-dropping celebration of the 2008 One World One Dream Olympic theme which I can’t quit thinking about.
The entire program created powerful images of unity and solidarity, beginning with the thunderous performance of 2008 near-perfectly choreographed Chinese drummers. Watching them felt a bit like getting stuck in a room full of mirrors. A reporter for the Chicago tribune wrote, “The emphasis was not on individuals, but on masses of performers, meticulously trained and coordinated.” Talk about oneness!
Oneness is, or surely ought to be, a major topic of concern among Christians. It was high on Jesus’ list of priorities. He prayed fervently that we would be one. The apostles followed with astonishing talk of us being one body. We’ve been struggling with the notion ever since.
According to Jesus, far more is at stake in our oneness than peace and tranquility among believers. Our oneness is supposed to send a message to the world that Jesus truly came from the Father and that the Father loves us as he loves Jesus (John 17:20-23). Our oneness authenticates the divine nature of Jesus mission because the oneness He produces among His followers thrives in a sea of differences and defies the laws of human relational gravity.
Jesus seems to have something far more challenging in mind than what was happening in Beijing. If His start-up band of followers is any indication, Jesus chooses people that make His task infinitely more difficult and the outcome far more impressive than what is achieved by synchronizing 2008 young Chinese men of the same height, weight, build, haircut, and attire.
Jesus chose four Jewish fishermen then added the hated Matthew, who was ingratiating himself to the Romans and enriching himself by overtaxing his Jewish neighbors including, some believe, the fishing industry. With only the first five disciples in place tensions already thrive among Jesus’ followers. Tensions escalate with the inclusion of Simon the Zealot, a political loyalist with zero tolerance for a Jewish defector like Matthew.
Jesus wasn’t finished. Luke tells us He included women, which made no sense to His male disciples who, at one point, were dumbfounded to find Him even talking with a woman (John 4:27). Little did they realize He wasn't just talking with her, He was recruiting her for His cause. Then Jesus calls Paul whose assignment is to break the news that Gentiles are part of Jesus’ plan. Instead of making oneness easier, Jesus is making it harder.
What binds Jesus’ followers together is not our sameness, but our firm allegiance to Him and to His cause in the world. We will never dot our theological I’s, cross our political T’s, or beat our worship drums exactly the same way so long as we live in a fallen world. Deep differences will always exist among us. But our differences are what give our oneness the unique power to communicate to the world that Jesus has come and is making a difference in our lives—bringing hopelessly diverse individuals together into one united Body.
“See how they love one another” will leave lasting images in the world’s mind when we love one another, not in sameness, but in the midst of our differences.