8 October 2008 Wednesday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time
Galatians 2, 1-2 & 7-14; Psalm 117; Luke 11, 1-4
The Responsorial Psalm summarizes the readings today, “Go out to all the world, and Tell the Good News.” Paul went to the Gentile world and offered them the Gospel. Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells us of his second visit to Peter (Cephas) and the leaders of Jerusalem. He and his companions, Barnabas and Titus (a Gentile), had a private conference with them. Paul explained the good news which he had been preaching to the Gentiles. The point of the conference was not about his teachings. Paul was worried about his converts if they did not get the support from Peter and the Jerusalem leaders. If Paul will not be supported by Peter, then the converts would transfer to the Judaizers and his work would have failed.
But Peter and the leaders supported Paul. They decided not to impose any part of the Jewish law on Gentile converts to Christianity. For example, they did not order Titus to be circumcised. This made Paul’s work legitimate and valid. Second, Peter and the leaders “extended the right handshake to Paul” making Paul their apostolic partner, thus their equal. In the first reading today, Paul tells us of two things. They decided on a territorial division of labor. Peter and the leaders of Jerusalem would continue evangelizing Palestine (the circumcised), and Paul and his companions would take the dispersion, that is, both Jews and Gentiles living outside of Palestine (the uncircumcised). In addition, they agreed to remember the poor, “God’s spiritually-privileged” (not necessarily economically destitute).
However, sometime between the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 and the writing of this letter to the Galatians in AD 55), Peter visited Antioch and freely mingled with all believers including those who were converted from paganism or from Judaism. But when a Jerusalem group arrived, Peter began to withdrew from the fellowship and meal sharing. Probably he was conscious about what the group would say about his being with the uncircumcised. Worse, the rest of the Jewish Christians including Barnabas began to withdraw, Paul rebuked him, because he thought that “they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the Gospel.” So he reminded Peter of his decision not to impose Jewish law on converts from paganism. It was not the Jewish law (Torah — the first 5 books of the Old Testament containing instructions and directives) that bound them, but their love for Jesus. This is precisely the point of the Gospel. When we pray the “Our Father” we acknowledge that we are all brothers and sisters, equally loved and united by our one and only Father. No one is excluded. Not by nationality, race, or even orientation.
Let’s bring this to earth. There are things we know by faith. In principle, we know that we should not discriminate. We know that as Christians we are to mingle with different kinds of people, recognizing the presence of Christ in them. We know this. However, this is easily said than done.
Allow me share an experience. I remembered my first few months in UP as chaplain. I grew up in Catholic schools and surrounded by Catholics all throughout my life. UP was outside of my comfort zone. The first struggle I had was to mingle with people who were vocal enough to assert their disagreement with the Church’s involvement in politics or the Church’s directives contrary to their advocacy. In addition, I met all sorts of people, from the ultra-conservative to the lax and the reckless. The variety was just overwhelming. Later on, I found myself at home with variety and thus very much at home in UP. I have friends whom many priests would not want to be seen with in public — precisely because they are afraid of the judgment other people would give them. They are those who might externally look eccentric; or those who have publicly professed their atheism; or those who have lifestyles that are questionable to many ultra-conservative individuals. My friends in this circle would often ask me why I stay. And I answer them, “why should I not?” When I was in Mindanao, I used to spend time with my Muslim students. And I enjoyed and loved their company. This is where I learned to re-define what it means to “go out to the world, and tell the Good News”. To go out to the world is not anymore to convert them to our religion, but to extend “our right hands” in friendship. It is to recognize in each other, despite our differences, our common Father.