Thursday of the fifth week of Easter
Newcomers to the Faith
Yesterday in the Acts of the Apostles we accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their trek to Jerusalem to meet with the elders there, among whom were the apostles Peter and James. The debate that had begun in Antioch continues now in Jerusalem. The issue is the same: what to require of the Gentiles who want to become Christians? Should they be expected to adhere to the law of circumcision and the dietary laws handed down by Moses? There are strong opinions on both sides.
Finally Peter stands up. And when he speaks the others listen. Peter is very persuasive. He suggests that it might not be a bad idea for them to pattern what they do on what God does. And he points out that God makes no distinction between Gentile and Jew – between them and us. What’s good enough for God ought to be good enough for them.
He goes further and asks rhetorically ‘Why should we ask people to carry burdens that we ourselves find intolerable. When you get right down to it, our being saved is not the result of anything we do, but the grace of God, the favor God shows us. It’s not that God loves us because we are good; rather, we are good because God loves us!’
This is a very different Simon Peter from the one we’re familiar with in the gospels: the arrogant apostle who brags that he’ll go to his death with Jesus and then later denies even knowing him. This is a chastened Simon Peter, a much more compassionate man.
This brief picture of the early Church in action is refreshing. We see people willing to talk and to listen; we see prophets in their midst being heard. We see a concern not to burden others. We see everyone trying to discern God’s will in what they do.
History, they say, is a great teacher. In this case, it teaches us how to debate religious policies, how to treat others who are different from ourselves, how to lift burdens from others’ shoulders instead of heaping heavier ones on them. Important as these lessons were for the early Church, they are just as much-needed for our Church today and for each one of us in our own personal lives.
Damian Towey, C.P.