The winds of change- Friday, 5th Week of Easter- Acts 15:22-31
Yesterday, we heard of the deliberations that took place in the first council of Jerusalem. There was much debate about the issue of the Gentiles. There were some converts to Christianity, who were formerly Pharisees, who believed that the Gentile Christians whom Paul had converted to the faith in Antioch, must be subject to the Law of Moses which demanded circumcision.
The council could be divided into four parts; a debate which obviously included the views of both sides, an opinion expressed by the head of the Church to give the debate some direction, sharing of testimonies related to the debate and finally, a decision. This was the high council of the newly formed Christian Church in full action, yet it was not governed by a legalistic framework but one of openness to the Spirit and to one another.
It was Peter who suggested that the demands of the Christians, who came from a Pharisaic background be disregarded, as he felt that it placed on the new Gentile converts, “a yoke that neither their (Jewish) ancestors not they could bear” and yet, this was demanded from the Gentile Christians of Antioch. Peter thus signalled the winds of change in this ‘new sect of Judaism’ which over time was called Christianity. This new path envisioned by Peter was backed by the testimonies of Barnabas and Paul to the wonders that God had worked among the Gentiles of Antioch and the neighbouring areas.
It was James who finally decided the matter for the Church (not Peter) when he suggested that the ritualistic demands of the Mosaic Law be done away with for the Gentiles. This however does not mean that the moral and natural law of God as read in the Law of Moses and experienced in our lives, does not stand. The Ten Commandments continue to be the foundation of Christian moral law. Remember that in Matthew 5-7, Jesus calls us to a higher standard of living the Law; the way God wanted it to be lived.
This new decision that made redundant the traditions of the Mosaic Law, came with a caveat. This was done so that the actions of the Gentile Christians would not cause the Jewish Christians to be scandalized, or even hurt their sentiments or sensibilities, especially since they all would eventually sit at the same table.
If you look at the heart of James, he clearly wanted the faith to grow, yet in a sensitive way to those who had once followed the traditions of Moses and now chose to live the teachings of Christ. James wanted this transition to be sensitive and smooth. Hence the Gentile Christians were not to eat meat offered to idols or of those animals that were strangled, or indulge in fornication; all of which would have made the Jewish Christians extremely uncomfortable and perhaps agitated.
Paul and Barnabas are now sent back to the Gentiles in Antioch with the judgment from the highest council in the Christian Church. They were sent back with handpicked men who were leaders among the brothers to accompany them. Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas were to serve as witnesses to the judgment, as well as honour Paul and Barnabas who had done so much for the sake of the name.
While the first council of the Church wrapped up matters rather efficiently, it’s judgment did not please all, especially the Christians who came from the background of the Pharisees. It is they who will dig in their heels and trail Paul on his missionary journeys, spreading doubt and dissension.
There are many people who even today disagree with the teachings of the Church or the Pope. While we may not be happy with judgments that we believe ‘to be wrong’ or which clash with our set of beliefs, we must not become the cause of dissention and division in the Church. The Church belongs to Christ and He alone guides and guards it. Perhaps like these Judaizers who followed Paul and disrupted his mission, we too may be working against the will of God, because we have chosen to believe in our version of the truth and failed to see God’s bigger picture.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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