Thursday, May 22, 2014
The readings from the Acts of the Apostles over the past few days have highlighted the controversy in the earliest communities of the faithful over how the Gentiles (non-Jews) who came to believe in Christ would be able to be a part of the community. Many thought that, since Jesus was a Jew and all of the apostles and disciples were Jews, and since they all were following the laws of Judaism as well as coming together for the "breaking of the Bread", anyone who took part in what we would call the "Christian" part also had to be Jewish. Others thought that, since the Holy Spirit was obviously within them and they desired to be a part of the "Christian " community, they did not have to convert to Judaism. Paul, Peter and the others debated this at what has been known as the "First Council of Jerusalem". James, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, is the one who made the ultimate decision. "It is my judgment, therefore,that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God,but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols,unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood." These four things may seem strange, but we have to remember that the faithful at that time gathered for the "Breaking of the Bread" not as a separate ritual like we do, but rather as a part of a full meal. A devout Jew would not be able to sit and eat with someone who had offered sacrifice to idols, was in an unlawful marriage, ate the meat of an animal that had been strangled or consumed food that had blood (Not Kosher). Therefore they would not all be able to sit together for the "Eucharistic Meal". The solutions was one that put the primary law of love into practice. It would be a very concrete way of showing love for the Jewish members of the community to accept those Gentiles who believed. And it would be a sign of love for those Gentile members to make sure that they did nothing which would prevent the Jewish brothers and sisters from being able to eat with them. The words of James show a masterful way of everyone living the command of Jesus to "love your neighbor as yourself". Certainly we should be glad that it did, because if the outcome was different, we might not be Christian today! It also is a great example for us of how to look for ways to resolve differences by living the commandment of love. When I have a disagreement, I will always find the best solution if I strive to love the other person as I love myself. By asking "what can I do or say that will show the most love?", I am always going to come up with creative ways of doing or saying the right thing. So many times we have disagreements over what really are trivial matters. By not always thinking in terms of winning and losing, I can change the dynamic. In any healthy relationship that is built on love, we do not think about winning, because that means that the other person (spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend) is a loser. So we should not approach any relationship with the idea that I have to win. Making our love concrete might mean saying to ourselves "It really is more important that the other person feels good rather than I get what I want." And surprisingly, when I do this I always end up feeling pretty good! Love has that kind of result, you see. The more we show love in concrete ways, the better we feel about ourselves! So, maybe we need to have our own sort of "Council of Jerusalem" from time to time if there are tensions or disagreements. Applying the law of love in a concrete way, as James did, just might make all the difference in the world.