To Discern the Source of our Faith- Reflection for Mass of April 26, 2010

26 Apr

Monday, April 26, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 42:2-3, 43:3-4; John 10:1-10

The Christian Church of the late first century C.E., of which the Acts of the Apostles and the canonical Gospels are products, was a Church in transition. Some decades earlier, St. Paul had written his letters while controversies such as those over Jewish food and purity laws and admission of Gentiles into the Christian Church were already taking place.

Acts takes up the story of early Christianity, with its struggle to join Jewish and Gentile traditions, about two decades after Paul’s martyrdom. This book, according to some commentators, presents an irenic, sanitized image of the early Church: mass baptisms,[1] communities where no person is in need,[2] and a church whose leaders meet, as they did at Jerusalem over circumcision, food laws and Gentile admission,[3] and resolve their differences amicably.

As in today’s Church, the members and leadership of the Church of the New Testament did not always function so flawlessly. In the Pauline letters- specifically that to the Galatians- we read that Peter drew Paul’s ire for his reversal of position, out of fear, on Gentile Christian adherence to Jewish dietary laws.[4] In contrast, today’s reading from Acts shows St. Peter to be most courageous in explaining that to keep separate “clean” and “unclean” foods according to Mosaic Law was less important than the divine gifts of salvation and of the Holy Spirit[5] that extend to all who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.[6]

Why, then, is there such a difference between the portrayal of Peter in Acts and that by Paul to the Galatians? The author of Acts was aware of controversies in the early Church; it was not, therefore, that author’s intention to gloss over the external and internal problems experienced by first-century Christians. However, the theology of Acts differs radically from that in Paul’s letters.[7] Paul had passionately underscored the inclusiveness of the Christian faith: there was to be no distinction in dignity between Jew or Greek, slave or freeperson, male or female.[8]

A similar point to that of Paul is conveyed in Acts, but in a different theological style. In Acts, God is emphasized as the source of repentance and the source of salvation.[9] Acts thus calls us back to the root of our faith: God, especially made manifest for all in the person of the Holy Spirit.

The need still exists to discern good from evil, that which is conducive to following Jesus, the true gate through which the sheepfold must enter, and that which is not, as today’s reading from John’s Gospel points out.[10] To live in and through the Spirit is not libertinism but everlasting life. Let us then return to that source, and discern ever more accurately the essence of our faith- not laws that separate what ought to be united but the Law that brings us together in love- God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

WRS

 


[1] Acts 2:47

[2] Acts 2:44-45

[3] Acts 15:1-35

[4] Galatians 2:11-14

[5] Acts 11:15-18

[6] Philippians 2:11

[7] John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom (New York: HarperOne, 2004), 27-34.

[8] Galatians 3:28

[9] Acts 11:18

[10] John 10:7

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