The story of the building of the tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis (11:1-9) is a negative narrative with some positive lessons. The story starts by indicating that the whole world had one language and the same word. At some point, the inhabitants of the world came together and agreed among themselves to build a city with a tower that would reach up to the heavens.
They were making progress in their work until God decided to come down and hack into their “linguistic software” by multiplying languages among them to confuse them. God said that they are one people with one language and there is nothing they propose to do that would be impossible for them. With the multiplicity of languages, they could no longer coordinate themselves, and they scattered and abandoned the tower project.
The critical elements in the story are one language, one people and possibilities. This illustration of the event at the tower of Babel reflects the message of St. Paul today in the Second Reading (1 Cor. 12:12-30). The apostle used the human body which consists of many parts that work together for the well-being the individual to describe what should obtain in the Christian community; the body of Christ, which includes components working together for the common good.
God is the author of unity as well as diversity, and we characterize God as a trinity of persons subsisting in one God. Differences exist to strengthen unity and unity, in turn, is purpose driven. God is the author of the different shades of humans and animal; it is no one’s choice or fault.
Once upon a time, three cats (black, white, and brown) were excellent friends and neighbors. One day, they argued on who has the superior color. The black cat starts by saying that with its black color it is easier to catch preys in the dark. The white interrupts, saying that white is fabulous and people like it a lot. The brown replies and says I am the best among us, not dark and not white so am the best color of a cat!
When they could not settle, they agreed to seek the opinion of a wise one. The wise one, in turn, decides to tell a story. When God was creating cats, the initial model was in the fire for a long time and came out burnt, that is the black cat. The second did not stay in the fire for a long time, that was the white cat. The last was halfway in the fire, and that was the brown cat.
The wise one continues by saying that God did not discard any of three shades of cats but gave each of them the same life. Finally, he tells them that the best thing they all have is their identity as cats which is more superior than their shades of color.
The Gift of Diversity
St. Paul’s example of diversified unity with the working of the human body perfectly describes what God intends by creating diversity. In the passage, St. Paul pointed out that the parts of the body depend on each other for the full functioning of the individual and when any part of the body is defective the other parts suffer.
God intends unity in our diversity that is why we have male and female, tall and short, black and white, rich and poor and other forms of differences like locations and languages. The diversity we have in the world is a special gift that we are yet to understand and appreciate. In the priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ before his passion and death, he asked, “that they may all be one as we are one. As you, father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (John 17:21).
From these words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we understand that unity establishes the presence of God in our lives. Furthermore, in the Gospel of Matthew (18:20), Jesus maintains that when two or more are united in his name, he will be in their midst. While diversity is not what we choose, unity is something we voluntarily attend; it is intentional, not accidental.
Unity and Obedience to the Law
Unity happens when different parts work together for a common purpose. However, working together can only take place when the diversity abides by prescriptions of the law. In the First Reading today (Nehemiah 8:2-4a,5-6, 8-10) the people in the assembly were touched by the instructions from the book of the law because they could see that they were not following the purpose driven unity prescribed by God.
The primary mission of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth was to reunite humanity to God after the friction caused by the sin of disobedience. Today in the Gospel Reading (Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21), our Lord Jesus announced the manifesto of his ministry which summarily talks about returning the lost glory we had in God and bringing us back to Him.
Moving Forward: Advancing the Unity Project in Diversity
God says that our diversity can lead us to unity, but the devil tells us otherwise. The ultimate project of the devil is to counteract whatever God says. If we go back to the Book of Genesis (Genesis 3:2), the devil asked the woman, “did God say you should not eat of the fruit of the garden?”
Disunity is the devil’s plan against the unity that should come from our diversity. It takes the divine knowledge to understand that distinction does not impede a step towards purposeful unity. A beautiful mass is not just about the priest but the harmony that comes from various ministries performing their respective duties. The beauty of a great choir is the harmony of different voices.
Unity does not mean sameness. We don’t need to be identical to have unity. May we on this day take some time to look into our personal lives, families, and communities (secular and religious) to know the best ways to revitalize and resuscitate unity in our diversity.
God bless you!