6th Sunday in Easter
The Acts of the Apostles again provides the first reading for a weekend in the Easter season.
As it grew, Christianity not only expanded beyond its original base in the Holy Land, but it also drew gentiles as well as Jews. Diversity was a characteristic early therefore in the evolution of the Church.
This increasingly multicultural nature of the Christian community presented problems.
The problem is evident in this weekend’s reading. A dispute arose in Antioch, located on the Mediterranean Sea north of the Holy Land, at the time one of the major cities of the Roman Empire.
In Antioch’s recently formed Christian community, the membership was composed of people from all backgrounds. Jews would have been among them. Yet, other converts were not of Jewish background.
Still, the major figures among Christians at the time, most certainly including the Apostles who had known Jesus, or their earliest followers, were Jews.
The dispute was about circumcision, the ancient, and requisite, ritual followed in Judaism for Jewish males even to this day. Evidently, some Antioch Christians were demanding that converts from paganism submit themselves to this ritual.
Neither Antioch’s Christian leaders, nor Antioch’s individual Christians, resolved the dispute. The persons directly involved, namely the converts themselves, were not allowed to decide about the matter for themselves.
So, the question was sent to Jerusalem, for review by the Apostles.
Replying, the Apostles called the Antioch Christians “brothers,” one and all, without any distinction. The Apostles said that this Hebrew ritual need not be imposed upon converts. They based theirs decision on their authority, conferred upon them by the Holy Spirit.
The Book of Revelation furnishes the second reading. This reading is poetic and highly symbolic. The city, of course, is heaven, but called the “heavenly Jerusalem.” This heavenly city awaits all who love God. On each of its four sides are three gates, open and available to anyone wanting entry. Three was a perfect number. The four sides refer to the four corners of the earth. In other words, all are welcome.
The names of the 12 tribes of Israel appear on the city’s walls, another symbol to say that salvation is offered to all. No tribe is excluded.
St. John’s Gospel gives this weekend the third eloquent reading. It makes three points.
Jesus calls upon the disciples to love each other. It will not be easy all the time.
However, following Christ will not be impossible, as the Holy Spirit will assist and strengthen the faithful.
Finally, for those who truly love God, peace will be with them. Peace is not necessarily an absence of conflict, or necessarily so broad as only to exist, hopefully, among people or among nations. It is the peace of the individual human heart and soul that comes from knowing God is present.
Already the Church is directing us to Pentecost, but far from merely pointing us to an anniversary. The Church is telling us that, if we accept Jesus and live by the Gospel, God will be with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Then, the Church gives us very practical advice. Since being with God in the heavenly Jerusalem is the only true source of peace, and anything else is death, we reach God’s heavenly Jerusalem by our daily decisions to follow Jesus.
The route to heaven is revealed not just by personal insight, but by God’s illumination of the path. Relying upon Christ, and upon the Lord’s Apostles, the Church illumines the way, guiding us to answer, with Christian faith and love, the questions that confront us in life.
As we look ahead to Pentecost, the Church already calls us to strong faith, but also to realism. We need the Church’s guidance.
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