Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle
EASTER AND THE COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM, PART II
Early in the life of the Church the faith grew and the understanding of God’s way became better understood following the resurrection of the Christ. God’s plan from the start was to gather all peoples into his Covenant of salvation. Disagreements and discussion ensued as to whether newly converted “Gentiles” were required by God to follow every detail of the Law of Moses. The Church met in Jerusalem. Here are “the minutes” of their meeting leading up to their decision and handling of the problem. This was a real turning point for the fledgling Church and a deeper understanding of the faith.
[Today’s Feast of Saint Matthias has it special scripture readings. As a result this passage was skipped over in the Mass readings. You find it here and can find the whole Chapter 15 by going to the readings for today (just below this on the home page) and navigating to yesterday Wednesday and click on the link at the top of the first reading on the right and it will take you to whole chapter. I have split the chapter into three sections — the second of the three is presented here.]
After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.”
The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.
After they had fallen silent, James responded, “My brothers, listen to me. Symeon has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name. The words of the prophets agree with this, as is written:
After this I shall return and rebuild the fallen hut of David; from its ruins I shall rebuild it and raise it up again, so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord, even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked. Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things, known from of old.’
It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood. For Moses, for generations now, has had those who proclaim him in every town, as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath.”
The words of Peter and James carried the day. Let’s see why.
Peter came to the meeting and told of his own experience concerning the faith of some Greek speaking converts. The one household we have already heard about is that of the Roman Centurion Cornelius. To refresh your memory — they got together because they had simultaneous visions and Peter answered Cornelius’ invitation. When he arrived in Caesarea and entered the house of Cornelius he spoke God’s word to them — the good news that Jesus was sent by God into this world as Savior. Upon hearing the word Cornelius believed. Peter remarked at the time: Now I know that God does not play favorites; but anyone of any nation who lives uprightly and reverences God is acceptable to the Lord. The household received the Holy Spirit — the same Spirit Peter had brought with him. It was not necessary for circumcision to intervene. In the scripture above Peter states: God purified their hearts by faith [in response to the word of God]… we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they. This is the fundamental meaning of the Gospel that all men are invited to share in the saving Covenant by faith generated by response to the word of God preached to them.
James comes to the same conclusion by another route. He cites Old Testament prophet Amos who says that God would gather the Gentiles into the restored house of David. He, too, points to the fact that God is the one who is doing this. It is up to him to work the way he wants. We ought not attempt to stop him and block his way with our human precepts. James goes on to cite what the Gentiles rather need to do: avoid insulting God by eating pagan sacrificial meat dedicated to false gods; avoid marital relationships which defile the divine purpose of marriage and the procreation of life; avoid eating blood because lifeblood is sacred as it represents God’s life in his creatures and must not be an occasion for disrespect of the God whose life is within us.
Both James and Peter support the primacy of God in all that we do — including what God has done in raising Jesus from the dead. Man is not first, God is. Could not have a better standard to go by. Their faith is a great lesson to us.