Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We Must Not Make Things Difficult For Those Who Are Turning To God

Today’s first reading continues the account of the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas.

Some men came from Judea to Antioch and were telling the disciples there: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” This gave rise to sharp dispute between them and the two apostles. So Paul and Barnabas were sent up to Jerusalem, together with some other believers, to consult with the apostles and elders about this question. On their way, as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told about how the Gentiles were being converted. This news made all the brethren very happy.

When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the Church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything that God had done through them. Then some believers who had been among the Pharisees said, “These gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider the question. After much debate, Peter arose and addressed the assembly: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the gentiles might hear the good news and believe. God, who knows the human heart shows that he accepts them, since he has given the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them. So then, why are you trying to put God to the test, by putting around the necks of the disciples a yoke that we and our forefathers were unable to bear? No! We believe that it is by the grace of God we are saved, and so are they.”

The entire assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had wrought through them. When they had finished speaking, James spoke up:

Brothers, pay attention to me. Simon Peter has described to us how God first showed his concern by taking from among the gentiles a people of his own. It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make things difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Rather, we should write to them, and tell them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from raw meat, and meat of animals strangled as pagan holocausts. Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times, and the Scripture is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.
(Acts 15: 1-21)

As Paul and Barnabas continue their missionary journey throughout Asia Minor, an underlying conflict continues between two attitudes: those who insist that new converts to the way of Jesus first become Jews, and those who consider that this is not necessary. The conflict is not resolved until the matter is brought to Jerusalem, and presented to “the apostles and elders” there. The last paragraph of this reading is a model of the supreme authority in the Church at work: the decision of the First Ecumenical Council. James, the host bishop, announces the decision in simple terms, “God chose from among the pagan nations a people he chose to be his own, the people of Israel. Now, we must not make things difficult for the gentiles of our generation who are turning to God.” God is the creator of the people of every race, place, and time, and he invites all to become fully his own; and he wants to make it easy for them.

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