The original Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was placed in the calendar bookmarked by two observances: the Confession of Saint Peter on the 18th, and today’s feast, the Conversion of Saint Paul. The former feast no longer appears in the Roman calendar, but the other remains with us.
Compared to the Great commission in Matthew 28:19-20, the parallel passage in today’s Gospel seems a bit strange. The evangelist relay’s Jesus’ mission to preach to “every creature.” Some Christians have latched onto verse 18 as a challenge to consort with poisons, both in snakes and glasses.
Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
Why is this significant in the context of Christian unity? It suggests that belief and baptism, something all Christians share, is the measuring stick for the Last Judgment. Some of the accompanying miracles look like signs: speaking new languages, handling snakes, drinking poisons. Jesus did none of these as related in any canonical Gospel. He did expel demons and heal the sick. These acts of kindness continue to this day.
Many Christians lament our passing into a new era, one in which we seem to have lost ascendancy. More people vacate the faith for skepticism, occasional attendance, Sundays in bed or in athletic pursuits. Public morality seems to have shifted. More than nine in ten local churches cannot deny they are in decline numerically, financially, and perhaps spiritually.
Maybe these are good days for Christians to band together. We could get back to the root of the Good News, proclaiming the person of Jesus Christ. From there, who knows? People would notice physical and spiritual healing. Twenty-first century demons are afoot: alcohol, drugs, anger, enslavement, addictions of behavior, and more.
Christians working together, praying together, even going to heaven together–that would be a significant miracle I’d like to witness.