Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Art of Compromise

Whenever Jesus speaks about love, as in today's Gospel (John 15: 9-11), it is always meant to be put into practice. And that is usually where we find difficulty. The early Church was no different. The beautiful passage from the Acts of the Apostles that is the First Reading for today's Mass shows us not only the difficulty, but also the way to see through it.
A dispute had arisen in the community over whether or not non-Jews (Gentiles) had to "convert" to Judaism in order to be part of what we would call the Church. Since Jesus was a Jew and the first disciples were Jews, and because they saw Him as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, most assumed that they were the logical development of Judaism. Hence, all who wanted to follow Jesus should become Jews.
The experience of Paul and some others, however, made them pause. Gentiles who were accepting Jesus seemed to be "filled with the Holy Spirit", despite the fact that they were still Gentiles! How could this be if God were not blessing them and affirming them as part of the Church? This was the discussion that took place in Jerusalem at what is considered the first "Council" of the Church. After hearing the reasoning behind both sides of the issue, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, James, constructs a beautiful compromise.
Since it is obviously not necessary that Gentiles undergo circumcision and follow all of the restrictive laws of Judaism in order to be acceptable to God, James decided that they did not need to convert. However, in order to show their love for all the members of the Church, the Gentiles would need to make sure that they did nothing that would prevent these sisters and brothers who were still devout Jews from sitting at table with them. Since a devout Jew would be considered ritually impure if they associated with people who committed certain acts, Gentiles were asked "to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood". In this way both Jew and Gentile could gather to partake of the Supper of the Lord, remembering the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in what would eventually become our Mass.
How wonderful this was, to see love in action! What a great lesson for us, especially when we tend to look at anyone who does not want to think or act exactly like we do as the enemy. This art of compromise is sorely needed in the world today. Think of how differently our workplaces, neighborhoods, families, government would be if we were willing to compromise. Because ultimately, as James proved, compromise is not about winning or losing. It is about loving.

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