11 May 2007: Friday of the 5th Week of Easter
Acts 15, 22-31 and John 15, 12-17 Love One Another
The background of the first reading is the tension that arose between the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch. Here we see the major development of Christianity from a Jewish sect to a universal Church. It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. The Church was expanding to Gentiles or non-Jews. It seems that when one has to convert to the ‘Jesus movement’ the Gentiles must undergo the rituals and rites of conversion of Judaism. Do they have to be circumcised? Do you have to adhere to the Torah and thus the dietary and purity regulations that comes from it? Thus the question: Do they have to be a Jew in order to become a member of the Christian movement.
Paul believed that it is then possible for a non-Jew to enter Christianity without having to pass the Jewish rites. So Paul went to the Jerusalem Church, where the apostles and presbyters discerned about the growing controversy. Finally, they decided that Gentiles do not have to undergo the Jewish rites, with a few exceptions: not to eat meat sacrificed to idols, blood from strangled animals and unlawful marriage. The letter sent by the Jerusalem community to their Antiochian brothers and sisters was an illustration that they were able to recognize the Holy Spirit working in them, and they had treated them as their friends. The first reading tells us that the disciples took to heart Jesus commandment “to love one another” as He loved in the Gospel today.
The major shift from a Jewish sect to a universal Church requires a refocusing of one’s commitment. The Jerusalem church struggled with an agonizing choice between Judaism (the religious community of the Chosen People) or the new faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and Son of God. Thus Paul has refocused his commitment to the religious institution of Judaism, to a selfless commitment to Jesus. His commitment to Jesus enabled him to have a faith that is open to the unexpected and the Truth.
We Filipinos have kept the faith. But our faith, though simple and sincere, possess deficiencies. Many are ignorant of the doctrines of the faith. We have kept our faith by popular religious practices like the rosary, fiestas, processions, but we are not completely adept at our faith that many Catholics become vulnerable to the teachings of aggressive and evangelical groups. We forget that to be Christian is to have an informed faith that recognizes the presence of Christ in others.