Wednesday, May 17, 2017

JEWISH SECT, OR CHURCH FOR ALL?


Homily for May 18th, 2017: Acts 15:7-21.

          The Church’s original members were almost all observant Jews. After the Lord’s return to heaven at the Ascension, they continued to worship in the Jerusalem Temple, and to observe the Jewish dietary laws. Things began to change when a Roman military officer named Cornelius, described as “religious and God-fearing [as was] his whole household,” had a vision telling him to “send for a certain Simon, known as Peter.” About the same time Peter too had a vision in which God commanded him to eat food that the Jewish dietary laws labeled as “unclean,” and not to be eaten. This prepared Peter for the visit of messengers from Cornelius inviting him to come with them to their master.

          When Peter arrived, he found that Cornelius had invited a large crowd of relatives and friends, all presumably Gentiles. Jesus told them about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Whereupon the Holy Spirit descended on the whole company, as he had descended on Peter and his friends at Pentecost. “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit, even as we have, from being baptized?” Peter asked. Following their baptism, Peter stayed with them several days, despite the Jewish law forbidding house and table fellowship with Gentiles. (See Acts chapter 10.)

          When news of all this reached Jerusalem, it caused consternation in the Christian community there. A meeting of Church leaders assembled to settle the question of what Jewish laws should be required of Gentiles who wished to receive baptism. Our first reading told what happened.

This first Church Council settled the matter by deciding that Gentile Christians need not observe the whole Jewish law, only certain essential provisions. This decision was momentous – and for the future crucial. It enabled the Church to emerge from its Jewish womb and become what it is today: the Body of Christ for all peoples, races, and nations, without difference or distinction. Pope Francis recently preached about this in one of his daily homilies. “If tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here... Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them... And one says, ‘But I want to be baptized!’ What would happen?” he asked. “When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, ‘No, Lord, it is not prudent! His point was: the Church is for all, without distinction.