Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2012
The readings for the 6th Sunday of Easter are Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29
The early Church community in Jerusalem was not without its problems! Several of the controversies are evident in today’s first reading from Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles.
When some of the converted pharisees of Jerusalem discover the results of the first missionary journey of Paul (vv 1-5), they urge that the Gentiles be taught to follow the Mosaic law. Recognizing the authority of the Jerusalem church, Paul and Barnabas go there to settle the question of whether Gentiles can embrace a form of Christianity that does not include this obligation. The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35) marks the official rejection of the rigid view that Gentile converts were obliged to observe the Mosaic law completely. From here to the end of the book of Acts, Paul and the Gentile mission become the focus of Luke’s writing.
Early Church controversies
If the Gentiles are to become Christian, does that imply they must observe the customs of the Jewish converts to Christianity? This would mean imposing circumcision, dietary restrictions, and marriage regulations. The scene from today’s first reading not only presents us with one of the first great controversies of the early Church, but also gives us some excellent insights into our own understanding of tradition and continuity, and the resolution of conflicts in the Church.
In the reading from the Book of Acts, some unauthorized members of the Jerusalem church tried to insist upon circumcision as a necessity for salvation within the church at Antioch. The classical problem of the early Church revolved around the necessity of the Mosaic law for salvation. Jesus certainly kept it perfectly, from his birth, for he was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and he never annulled the force of the Mosaic law. In fact he states quite clearly: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Yet, Peter on the impulse of the Spirit had baptized the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius without requiring circumcision.
The Apostles and elders gathered for deliberation and came to an agreement with the Mother Church at Jerusalem that the Mosaic laws were not to be required, nor the many traditions of the rabbis. The converts, out of courtesy, were asked not to partake of blood, nor of animals improperly slaughtered without draining the blood, nor of strangled animals for the same reason, nor of marriages within certain blood bonds. [Read more...]