God reels us into technicolour – Saturday, 5th week in Easter – Acts 16:1-10

The text of today skips chapter 15:36 onwards which records the pre-departure preparation of Paul on his second missionary journey. This journey will begin in Acts 15:37 and end in Acts 18:22. This journey which will take Paul through Asia Minor and then Macedonia should have begun with celebratory tones. We know that Paul’s position was vindicated at the Council of Jerusalem. This meant that the Gentile believers did not have to be circumcised. Yet, what happens next is not a matter of celebration.

There was a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas wanted his cousin John Mark, the writer of the Gospel to accompany them but Paul would have none of it. It was John Mark who had left the trio on the first missionary journey when they were in Pamphylia and returned to Jerusalem. The text of today tells us that Paul perceived him as a deserter. We are told that the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was ‘sharp’ enough for them to ‘part company.’

As we complete Chapter 15, we are left with two unhappy situations. The Judaizers (as we will be told later) will hold a grudge against Paul. Circumcision was not mandated for the Gentile Christians and this was a decision that would leave many bitter. But this animosity was only compounded by the fallout between Paul and Barnabas who, up unto now, were brothers in arms.

Here is Paul setting out on the second missionary journey. While he had a mandate from the headquarters, he had lost the support of his brother in the mission and the support of many Jewish Christians. This could not have been the way Paul envisioned his ministry. Yet God took his Church, through Paul, to Europe.

Today’s text tells us that Paul desired to evangelize in Asia (modern-day Turkey) but was prevented and redirected to Europe. A man of Macedonia fills his dreams calling him to ‘help them.’ Yet verse 14 tells us that it was a woman named Lydia who would be the first to be baptized with her household. This would be the first European convert.

On so many levels, the second missionary journey seemed doomed to failure. Paul lost Barnabas as a friend and brother. He lost the support of many Jewish Christians who hated him. His plan to minister to Asia was changed by the Holy Spirit which prevented his plans.

So much of our lives may reflect the challenges of Paul. Our desire to minister is thwarted by God’s spirit. Friends we loved and cherished, disagree and fall out with us forging into their ministry. Many of those who once supported us now see us as adversaries in ministry.

So much of our faith story is black and white. It is God who will finally reel us into technicolour

Spread the love ♥
Continue Reading

When red should run on our streets rather than a washing machine -Friday, 5th Week in Easter – acts 15:22-31.

Paralysis by analysis is how I best describe many decisions (or even worse the lack of them) that are made, by and large, in the Church of India. I am not suggesting that where fools rush in, angels should tread blindly. However, when every dot and iota must be examined by human minds, in order for every possible mistake to be eliminated, then the result is directed towards looking good and not doing good.

Nothing is foolproof. While thought must be given, options examined and consequences weighed, there will always be some lacunae. The apostles and elders of the Earl Church had deliberated on a well-cherished belief of the Jewish Christians. Yet, in this case, what was good for the goose was not good for the gander. Peter described circumcision, a sign of the Abrahamic covenant for the Jews, as a “yoke” that was unbearable. It was time to let go of circumcision in this new emerging sect of Judaism whose followers had already been given the name, ‘Christians.’

Would there be consequences? It would be foolhardy to believe there would not. We know from the chapters following, that those in disagreement with the decision of the Council of Jerusalem, turned their ire on Paul. Perhaps we still do the same when we vent our frustration on the dog because we can’t kick the boss. It was the council that took the final decision, yet the Judaizers (Jewish Christians in favour of circumcision) directed their ire towards Paul.

The decision of the council of Jerusalem had, what I call, a ring of apostolic authority. Not only were Paul and Barnabas sent on a renewed mission but witnesses of this council were appointed to communicate this decision so that there was no room for ambiguity. This council set its seal on the matter. It also called out those who had disturbed the peace of the community. The letter affirms that they acted with no instruction and no authority from the apostles or elders in Jerusalem. Their objective was to disturb the minds and unsettle the thoughts of the believers. Here was the council calling out, in no uncertain terms, those who were disrupters of the faith. Alas, if only we did the same today.

This is how a Church should function. Fraternal correction cannot be just a slap on the wrist when those responsible should be behind bars. Such a Church does not hold a moral high ground especially when we defend life and limb in every other form. You have to ask yourself why the Church in India continues to be lacklustre in her prophetic voice. You have to ask yourself why we do not hear the firm teaching voice of our Bishops rather than tepid if not ill-prepared homilies. You have to ask yourself why the pulpit does not break the word and break its silence on issues of justice. You have to ask yourself why the Church in India, its hierarchy, clergy, religious and laity continue to say little about the suffering of her people in Manipur.

The Catholic Bishops Conference cannot be a paper tiger that issues limp press releases and calls for fasts and prayers when much more needs to be said. Should consequences be weighed? Yes! Will those consequences raise many more Fr Stan Swamy’s? Of course, it must! But the Church in India must be decisive like the Early Church even though they knew they would be marched to a cross or thrown to the lions.

The Cardinals wear red for a reason. It’s the colour of blood. It’s time they let that colour bleed on our roads for taking a stance that the same colour simply run in a washing machine.

Spread the love ♥
Continue Reading

What the council of Jerusalem should teach us today – Thursday, 5th week in Easter – Acts 15:7-21

The text of today tells us of the first Ecumenical Council. it was held in Jerusalem between the years 48- 50 AD. The early church had hit a brick wall with two opposing groups. While the Acts of the Apostles did not record this disagreement in the strongest words, the fact that it necessitated a council itself indicates how divisive this issue had become. In hindsight, this would be a trivial issue for us in the modern world. Should circumcision be imposed on the Gentile converts?

Clearly, the early Church continued to have a Jewish character even though they were given the name ‘Christians’ in Antioch. But while the Jews did not embrace Jesus as the Messiah, the Gentiles were captivated by this new sect of Judaism (that is how early Christianity was perceived). While the Jewish Christians clung to circumcision as a necessary sign of the covenant, the Gentile Christians saw this act as irrelevant to their new calling.

As I have said before, there is a need to thank God that the early Church did not have the internet. Today, the internet has not only made many Christians home-baked theologians but has also entrenched their views into a position of infallibility. This new online breed of internet Christians needs to take a page out of the functioning of the early church and they need to do it now.

The council of Jerusalem certainly did not have the apostles and elders holding hands and singing ‘come by here’. The topic being deliberated had strong emotional and traditionally held religious beliefs to it. We are told that this deliberation had gone on for a ‘long time.’ This was certainly a heated discussion but one that still approached with love.

When you read the text, you see how the Early Church approached matters. Verse 12 tells us that the assembly ‘listened in silence’ to the testimony of Paul and Barnabas and this was a very long one considering their journey. Peter addresses the assembly as ‘brothers’ and James, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, is given the respect of having the last say and the final decision.  This is how a synod needs to be approached and not what we have seen in the recent past at the universal level in the Catholic Church.

I cannot imagine how momentous this decision was. This was a major shift from a traditionally held and cherished belief for the Jewish Christians. One that holds good even today for the Jewish people. We need to praise God for the openness of the Early Church under the leadership of Peter, James, Paul and Barnabas. Sadly, that Spirit of God is shut out by voices on the right and left today. What is shocking is that unlike the acceptance of the decision of St James as leader of Jerusalem, the authority of the Holy Father is openly questioned today.

Peter called circumcision, which was a cherished sign of the Abrahamic covenant a “yoke placed on the neck of the (Gentile) disciples” that ‘neither their ancestors nor they were able to bear.’ Peter was able to recognize that even a cherished covenantal sign had now become a burden. Peter did not eliminate the covenantal relationship. He saw that this external sign which was long cherished, had now become a hindrance to the growth of the Church.

Do not misread what I have written. Clearly, a sign, an expression of the covenant, needed to be dropped; not the covenant itself. There are those on the left and the right who love to confuse and blur such lines in debates that take place in the Church today. They do this in the hope of creating doubt and confusion in the minds of Catholics. If the faith needs to grow today, a healthy debate and even perhaps, a monumental traditional sign may need to be eased out of our faith expressions for the Church to grow.

Will all be happy? The Acts of the Apostles will tell us of these Jewish Christians of Pharisaic origin who will follow Paul wherever he goes on his missionary journey. They will poison the minds of new believers and sow dissension in the Early Church. They will question his apostolicity.

Does this all sound even vaguely familiar?

Spread the love ♥
Continue Reading

To change or not to change – Wednesday, 5th Week in Easter – Acts 15:1-6

On January 29, 1959, Pope John XXIII shocked the Church and the world with his announcement at the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls in Rome that he was convoking the first ecumenical council in nearly a century. There was no real crisis in the church. It was, by many measures, a healthy, if ancient institution. Yet the Pope recognizing the signs of the times called for this great council.

Today, the council is often presented as one that wound up with lovely ribbons and bows but the truth is that many disagreed vociferously with what the Council fathers came up with. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani one of the council fathers, allegedly told confidants he wanted to die before the end of the Council.  When asked why, he said it was so that he could die a Catholic! Such were the shrill voices from the left and right.

The Church is no different today. There are still shrill voices on the left and the right which have been amplified to catastrophic and schismatic levels by home-baked theologians on the internet. Don’t worry, Christ is in charge of the Church. (PERIOD – for those who missed the tiny but affirmative punctuation). But this is also true; change does come to every institution.  While some bemoan the pace of change others resist it vociferously. A health debate is always a good thing. It is good when an institution such as the Catholic Church goes through a process of thesis and antithesis to arrive at some synthesis that is in line with the will of God and places the Church in the modern era.

Today’s text reminds us of the first such change that came rather quickly to this infantile Church. We have come to call it the Council of Jerusalem which you can read in Acts chapter 15. Paul and Barnabas have just returned from their first missionary journey that took them to Cyprus and modern-day Turkey. At each stop, they took the message of the Good News to the Jews, only to have it rejected by them. It was the Gentiles who responded with great enthusiasm.

But herein lies the problem. The Early Church had a distinctive Jewish character even though they were called ‘Christians,’ a name given to this sect of Judaism at Antioch. They were Jewish in cult and custom except for their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. Judaism was the vehicle that carried the Jesus movement.

The hallmark of the Jewish faith was the sign of the covenant expressed in the act of circumcision. Now that the Early Church was exploding with Gentile converts, there was an attempt to shed this expression as merely a Jewish requirement that had lost its relevance for those who wished to follow Christ. But such a change was hard to swallow for the Jewish Christians who once belonged to the Pharisee party. This called for a meeting which came to be known as the council of Jerusalem which was held around c. 4850 AD.

We will learn more about it in tomorrow’s teaching.

Spread the love ♥
Continue Reading

Beaten, bruised but not buried – Tuesday, 5th Week in Easter – Acts 14:19-28

How would you define a successful mission in the Church today? Packed to the rafters is what most people look for. If not, a great music ministry and a wonderful riveting speaker. Throw in a couple of miracles and healings and you have the makings of a successful Church mission.

But what if a Church mission ended in division and chaos? What if the visiting minister was booed? What if a group of disgruntled Christians disrupted his service and then stoned him and left him for dead? Would you call that mission successful? If your answer is NO then you just called the first missionary journey of Paul a failure.

Paul has worked miracles and performed healings. He has given the most moving sermons and drawn crowds to his words. He has travelled land and sea to make Christ known and yet he was not always met with acceptance. His first mission almost left him dead.

The text of today will tell us that Paul having been left for dead will retrace his steps. He will visit the same cities he ministered to, but he does this not with his head hung low. If Paul has boasted it has been of the many stripes on his back, his jail sentences, shipwrecks and hardships.

What is amazing is his fortitude! The fourth gift of the holy spirit. But even more was his ability to “strengthen the hearts of the disciples” (verse 22). Here is a man who truly identifies with the people of God. Here is a man who suffers great hardships and persecutions. This is not a motivational speaker but rather a moving exhibition of the kingdom of God. He has walked the talk and hence with authority has the ability to tell us that the kingdom of God demands persecution. This is the badge of honour we must wear when we present ourselves before the Lord.

But Paul is also a practical man. He knows the Church must be strengthened in his absence. He leads the Churches into prayer and fasting so that they may be guided by the Holy Spirit. We know that after a period of discernment, they appointed elders in these Churches.

The first missionary journey may be seen as a failure in the eyes of the secular world and perhaps even for many Church leaders today. For God, this was the way the Church was to move forward, with stipes of humiliation on its back. We are told that they made “many disciples,” a claim the Church sadly cannot make today.

Spread the love ♥
Continue Reading