SUNDAY, SIXTH WEEK OF EASTER
Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Ps 67:2-3,5-6,8; Rv 21:10-14,22-23; Jn 14:23-29
CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE BUT COMBAT IS OPTIONAL
Quarrels, disagreements and differences of opinion are part of human relationships. The Church is made up of both human and divine elements. It is holy and sinful. In the process of its growth and expansion, the Church too had to see many quarrels and conflicts. Sadly, some of these ended in irreparable divisions among the Christians and the saga continues even today! The unending trend of dispersion and division of Christians into thousands of denominations, congregations and assemblies is the sad reality that the Church of Christ faces today.
The first reading is about one such conflict. Thanks to the Holy Spirit and the maturity and experience of the apostles, the disagreement among the Jewish and Gentile converts on issues like circumcision and dietary norms was resolved at the Council of Jerusalem without any combat and division. No one made winning or losing the issue a matter of prestige. It did not boil down to a clash of egos. Together they sought the will of God. They were united around the essential i.e., the revelation of God’s desire to offer the gift of salvation to all peoples by the grace of faith in Jesus Christ. All other things were secondary. This passage from Acts in its entire setting has many salutatory lessons for our ‘community of believers’.
Serious Issues are to be discussed: There was a real issue. Should the yoke of the Law of Moses be imposed on Gentile Christians, or they be allowed to freely continue in their ways? The Council did not brush the problem under the carpet, but rather showed the maturity of openly discussing the issue. As members of the Church, we too need to discuss courageously the crucial matters that endanger the essence of the truth, the integrity of the doctrine, and the unity and oneness of the church. Also, there are certain things that are not worth discussing and debating about; they need to be set aside.
The spiritual maturity and experience of the leaders: If we read the entire account of the Council of Jerusalem, we realize how Peter bears powerful testimony to his own experience, granted to him by the Lord who showed him that the Holy Spirit was given equally and impartially even to the gentiles. The Lord had shown him clearly and in many ways that the gentiles becoming believers and members of the Church is the will of God. Paul and Barnabas also testified to a similar experience.
The Will of God and conformity to the Scriptures: James, using the Old Testament, tells the assembly that God has admitted the Gentiles into his family, making them part of it. We too should respect the rich experience of the spiritually mature persons in the Church, especially its shepherds and other lay leaders of integrity. Moreover, the decision arrived at or the solution proposed should conform with the sacred scripture and the teaching authority of the Church.
Being sensitive: We must keenly note the sensitivity shown by James towards the Jewish Christians who were rooted in the Mosaic Law from their birth. While he endorsed the opinion of Peter, Paul and Barnabas that Gentiles should not be burdened with the Mosaic practices, he added something more. He proposed that the Gentile Christians should, by all means, abstain from food sacrificed to idols, blood, and the meat of the strangled animals, even though they were not essential aspects of the Church. We have great lessons of sensitivity here. At the same time, it teaches us that in the process of dialogue and conflict-resolution process, it is not possible to please everyone perfectly. Peace and unity demand a ‘give and take’ attitude.
Beyond the clouds of emotions: John Collins, holds, “Half of our mistakes in life arise from feeling where we ought to think, and thinking where we ought to feel.” The believers and leaders of the early Church were able to rise above their feelings, and through mature discussion and dialogue, were able to arrive at an amicable solution. There are times feelings and sentiments divide many Christian communities. We need to guard ourselves against such tendencies!
Response: Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
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