May 7, 2015
THURSDAY, Easter week five
“Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations”
The Responsorial Psalm directs us to focus our attention on what God is doing, and to let that guide our judgments about human behavior: “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations” (Psalm 96). In particular, our interpretation of laws should be based on what we experience the Spirit doing in the Church. This is what the readings teach us.
In Acts 15: 7-21 the “Apostles and presbyters” resolved the dissension between the missionaries and the Pharisee party in the Church by basing their decision on three things.
First was the spiritual experience that Peter, Paul and the missionaries had of the Holy Spirit blessing their work among the Gentiles. Peter reminded them that God chose “that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God… bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us” (see Acts 10 and note the immediate opposition of the Pharisee party, Acts 11: 1-18). Then “Barnabas and Paul… told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.”
Second, James quoted God’s words in Scripture to show how “the words of the prophets agree with this.”
Finally, their conclusion reflects political sensitivity to the feelings of the Jewish Christians. The Gentile converts were asked to give up some foods that were especially abhorrent to Jews. These restrictions waned as their cause ceased to be an issue.
In their discussion and discernment, the Apostles and elders were in fact following Jesus’ instructions in John 15: 9-11: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” Their focus was on love, not law observance. The “commandments” Jesus urged them to keep were his own, not the rules and regulations already established in Judaism. And the greatest of his commands was simply, “Love one another as I love you.” Their decision was guided by their desire to love the Gentiles as Jesus loves all.
Jesus told them to keep his commandments “just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” This focuses us on mission, because that is what the Father sent Jesus to do. And it coincides with Jesus’ great command to Peter: “If you love me, feed my sheep” (John 21: 15-17). To truly obey Jesus with love, we must love and nurture his sheep. That is what guided the community’s decision about what to impose and not impose on the Gentile converts. And that is the spirit that must guide us all today. To do this we must have the courage to interpret laws in the light of the Spirit and their pastoral purpose.