A Reading for the Sixth Sunday in Easter, May 29, 2022
Reading I: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Responsorial Psalm: 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Reading II: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
Gospel: John 14:23-29
Chapter 15 of The Acts of the Apostles is entitled the “Council of Jerusalem.” That council dealt with what many of the early Jewish Christians considered to be scandalous; the acceptance of Gentile converts into the Christian community. Those Jews who accepted Christ as the Messiah were the Jewish Christians who formed the early Christian communities, but they viewed Christianity as the natural extension of Judaism, so their position concerning Gentile converts to Christianity was that any convert must first abide by Mosaic Law completely; including circumcision. St. Paul was plagued by these “Judaizers” throughout his missionary journeys who would infiltrate the Gentile Christian communities formed by Paul and try to convince them that they first needed to abide by Mosaic Law. The Jerusalem Council marks the official rejection of the position of the Judaizers.
Notice that the letter sent by the apostles to the community in Antioch indicates that this decision was reached by discernment: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us ….” The apostles prayed and asked for God’s guidance in this matter that was causing such scandal, and they were led by the Holy Spirit to the conclusion. The apostles didn’t take it upon themselves to make an “executive decision” in this matter; they trusted in God alone. Our 21st-century church is also plagued by a scandal that will not be resolved through executive decisions by the hierarchy. Discernment through prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead to a resolution.
One of the restrictions placed on the Gentile converts was that they were to abstain from unlawful marriage. It was unlawful in both Jewish and Christian cultures for close relatives to marry, but that was not always the case in some Pagan cultures, where brothers and sisters would marry to control inheritance or to “keep the bloodline clean.” Such marriages were illegal in Jewish and Christian communities, and this is the situation Jesus addressed in Mt. 19:9 in his teaching on marriage and divorce: One who divorces and remarries commits adultery: “unless the marriage is unlawful.” Pagans who converted to Christianity but were in these unlawful marriages needed to end those marriages to enter the Christian community.
Our second reading from The Book of Revelation reminds us that the true church is the heavenly church in all its splendor, unstained by any taint of scandal. The earthly church, mired as it is in the modern world, aspires to attain the dignity and splendor of the heavenly church and serves to remind us that it is our goal to reach that heavenly church as well. We need the earthly church to keep us directed toward that goal, but when we attain that goal, we won’t need the church any longer as we will see God as he is.
In our gospel passage, Jesus reminds us of our need for the earthly church; if we want to be loved by God we must listen to his words and abide by his commandments, and the earthly church is there to preach God’s Word and remind us of his commandments. And if we pay attention, then; “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” Jesus also said: “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you,” indicating the perfect union of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit and the church, and we are the church.
Jesus also reminds us that we have nothing to fear if we abide by his words because he will send the Holy Spirit into our hearts to lead us to all truth. It is through the sacraments of the church that our hearts and minds should be open to the Holy Spirit so that we will understand the truth and not lose faith in that heavenly church that we aspire to reach. He also tells the apostles that, although he is going away, he will come back again. This could refer to a celestial “return,” but it may also refer to the indwelling of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the apostles and in those who come to believe through the preaching of the church.
Our 21st-century earthly church is plagued by scandal as was the 1st-century earthly church. But it is in this earthly church we meet Christ in the sacraments for the forgiveness of our sins and it is this earthly church that keeps us on the path toward that heavenly church. Our church is not perfect, but nothing in this world is. Perfection is to be found in the description of the heavenly church in the Book of Revelation.
Author: Ric Cross