2019 – Cycle C
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14: 23-29
“Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Well, that eliminates from salvation most men in this world.
Does the phrase sound familiar? It should. It is said in numerous ways and forums today. Translation: “Unless you do it this way, you cannot be…a US citizen, a ‘real’ Catholic, a ‘real’ man, you cannot possibly be on our side, and yes, you cannot be saved.
The demand of the Jewish Christians for Gentile converts in regard to circumcision is an expression of “extremism” which has affected almost all discourse today. From the issues of abortion and immigration to liturgy, the ordination of women and who is to be considered an orthodox Christian; from climate change and trade to Brexit and globalism; from the various issues related to women and the LGBTQ community to patriarchy, clericalism and patriotism we can no longer speak with each other.
These are all important issues that need our reflection and discourse and a reasoned response. Yet as important as these issues are, have we not neglected to reflect on the causes of extremism? When did we step into the verbal boxing ring in which you pummel your opponent to a pulp so as to declare victory where the only real victim is truth? Why did we move away from civil and respectful discourse to shouting at people, shouting over people and attacking people rather than together wrestling and searching for the truth of very complex and thorny issues?
Have you considered the causes of our extremist views and behaviour? Is not extremism an expression of power and superiority over someone else? We are right and you are wrong! And how often are expressions of superiority simply masking our fears; the fear of not knowing, of being wrong, of being thought less of by others? In turn, isn’t this the seedbed of self – righteousness?
With roots in power, fear and self – righteousness, extremism lacks any sense of humility and thus can only see the other person as an opponent. We thus stop walking together seeking truth and compromise.
Might the early Christian community give us insight into our sad dilemma?
The Jewish Christians sowed seeds of dissension with their extreme view of how Gentiles were to become Christians. Was it their fear that Judaism would be swallowed up by the Gentiles? Was it a fear of the loss of their traditions? Was it a Jewish sense of superiority over the former pagans? As always, I expect it was a little of “all of the above” and more.
The issues were debated in Antioch and then in Jerusalem. And I expect the debate got heated at times. When an issue, and circumcision, the sign of the covenant would have been such an issue, is deemed important and personal, the temperature rises. What is important for us is that the community was involved. Not included in today’s passage is the scene when Peter offered a reflection on recent history and God’s movement within the community. James reflected on scripture. And then a decision was proposed. But note the wording of the letter sent to Antioch. “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…” It is obvious that prayer was a major component of the debate. Prayer in which the community sought God’s input. Through their prayer the church came to agree with the Holy Spirit. Jesus today tells us that the “Holy Spirit…will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” I’ve always wondered what “everything” and “all that I told you” means.
Debate, reflection, history, scripture and prayer. This may all be well within the Christian community, but how do we take this approach into the secular and multi – religious world community that we live in? How do we speak to and within a world community that does not have the same fundamental beliefs as we Christians? How open are we to the shafts of light and fragments of truth that may be found in other traditions and even secular world views? Remember the Spirit blows were it will.
I don’t have any simple answer. But maybe we Christians first need to be converted and convinced of the movement of the Holy Spirit within the Church so as to then be leaven within the world. In your prayer, in our prayer as a parish, do we ever ask what the Holy Spirit desires or us?