In Physics, we were taught about two pairs of forces associated with circular motion. Isaac Newton’s first law of motion tells us that a moving body travels along a straight path with a constant speed or velocity, unless it is acted on by an outside force. In a circular motion, the constant force acting on a body, pushing it toward the center of the circular path is the centripetal force or the ‘center seeking’ force. For planets to orbit around the sun, the centripetal force is gravity. For objects twirling on a string, the centripetal force is mechanical. For an electron circling an atom, the centripetal force is electrical.
Second, Newton’s third law of motion tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In circular motion, the opposite force is the centrifugal force or the ‘center-fleeing’ force. An object flies out of its circular force when the centripetal force is withdrawn. Therefore, without the center-seeking force (centripetal force), objects would fly out of its circular path. The centripetal force is what keeps an object in orbit and in its course. Remove gravity, everything will fly out. Remove the mechanical force, an object will be off route. Remove the electrical force, an electron will not circle around an atom.
This simple laws of Physics can be applied to the readings today. The centripetal force is Jesus. The centrifugal propensity to move away from Him is in us. We all have the tendency to move out off course. We may embark on an adventure, an experiment, a different way of life. We may enter into different relationships or explore the world. Without a center, we would scatter all over the place. We would find our lives directionless and meaningless because there is nothing that would gather us and keep us whole and in orbit. Without a center that would hold things together, we will always be lost. When Jesus tells us to remain in Him, He is inviting us to have Him as our sole and central principle in life.
There are many things that can take us off our orbit. Personal or institutional issues can shake and disturb an established system. Circumcision in the first reading was an established custom among the Jews. It symbolized commitment to the Mosaic law. The acceptance of Gentile converts placed the custom into question. If the Jews viewed circumcision as necessary for one to be saved, then uncircumcised Gentiles should undergo the procedure too.
But the disciples including Peter experienced the grace of God among the Gentiles as well as the Jews. “God does not make any distinctions,” Peter said. Everyone whether Jews or Greeks, circumcised or not, are saved. Thus the law of circumcision does not save us, as Peter reiterated. We are saved by faith — not by circumcision. We are saved by remaining in Christ, no matter the form used to symbolize this commitment to be with God.
The disciples therefore fixed their eyes on Jesus (their sole and central principle) that they were able to see what normally blinded them: a well-established custom was not actually essential and necessary. Having seen this truth, Peter, James, Paul and Barnabas had brought division to an end, saved the Gentiles from an unnecessary burden and had placed the Church back on its normal orbit.
In other words, Christ remains constant and stable. The rest, we are free to create and explore.