The reading from the Acts of the Apostles for this Friday of the 5th week of Easter may seem rather anticlimactic. We already heard the decision of the Jerusalem synod in yesterday’s reading. Today we hear how the community decided to communicate their decision.
First of all, it should be noted that in addition to Paul and Barnabas, the community chose two from their number to go with them to Antioch. Those two were Silas and Judas Barsabbas (son of Sabbas). We don’t hear much more of them after this. However the fact that the community decided to send representatives other than Paul and Barnabas is significant in that it accentuates that the community wanted to emphasize that while Paul and Barnabas had brought the issue to the community, it was the community who was making this decision.
Secondly, by sending Silas and Judas, the community was insuring that the decision would be explained verbally as well as through the letter that they carried. Silas and Judas could, in fact, elaborate on the decision and the process that was involved in discerning this answer.
The letter asks the Gentile Christians “to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.” (Acts 15:29) These three prohibitions (the second and third in the list are really the same) identify very real concerns of their Jewish counterparts. While they do not impose the entire Sinai covenant law upon the Gentiles, these three issues are so abhorrent to the Jewish community that it would have caused inevitable friction if they were not observed.
It should also be pointed out that the letter references the fact that the decision was made by the Holy Spirit and the members of the synod. From its very beginning, the early Christian community accentuated the fact that they were acting as God directed them.
This letter may have been the very first “apostolic exhortation” in the Church’s history. The current Holy Father, Pope Francis, has made that kind of communication more familiar to us through his use of it in “Evangelium Gaudii” and “Amoris Laetitiae.”
Once again, let us remember that the purpose of the Acts of the Apostles is threefold. It details the growth of the community, the witness of the disciples, as well as the preaching of the apostles. This text for today really incorporates all three of these purposes. We can take from this reading the very real need in our present day to enter into dialogue with one another in order to resolve differences as well as the need to always allow God to be present in our discussions. As we have seen in the past few years, this process is still very much the way that the Church of our times has been responding to similar difficulties.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator