Scripture: Lectionary # 287. 5/9/12. Acts 15:1-6. Psalm 122:1-2.3-4.4-5. John 15:1-8
Religious practices, ritual traditions, and structural questions are always a part of the tensions within Churches and Synagogues. Even the new born Christian communities that are over-idealized by Luke and even by us today, had their problems with the poor widows and certainly with the question of how circumcision—a sign of God’s covenant given to Abraham and Moses—fits into the newcomers into the communities that believe in Jesus as Messiah and Savior. Does Baptism take the place of circumcision? How do the Jewish converts relate to the influx of the Gentiles? These tensions are expressed in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles in today’s Scriptural passage.
The word dissension is used by Luke. Paul and Barnabas have to go up to Jerusalem after the Judeans who advocated circumcision for the Gentiles go down to Antioch! Notice the geographical up and down language used for cities. One always goes up to Jerusalem no matter from where you come. This is not part of the tension but simply a Scriptural notion about always “going up to Jerusalem.”
The controversy will lead to what we could call the First Council of the Church. Vatican II would be the last of some twenty such councils. Paul and Barnabas are the ones who brought about this first of councils. They are to be honored and revered for the approach they took in this serious situation for the Jews and Gentiles in the Church.
John’s Gospel repeats the theme of the vine and the branches. This is helpful as a exemplary figure of speech used by the Johannine Jesus in this Fourth Gospel, a Gospel of revelation stemming from the Incarnation or the Word become flesh and dwelling among us. While the time of meeting and discussing to make a decision about the question of circumcision takes away from the missionary activity of Paul and Barnabas, it does help the apostles and the members of the Church in Jerusalem come to a consensus that will be presented in chapter fifteen of the Acts. Here, however, the picture-image of the vine and the branches teach us that the focus has to be on Christ himself if there is to be unity in the Church. Branches separated from the vine do not continue to grow or to produce the fruit they do when united to the vine. Our important lesson from this is to make every effort to stay united with Christ in discussing our issues and trying to solve our controversies.
Servant leaders are called to center on Jesus as did the apostles. We are reminded that the essential for the Christian house churches is to remain united to the Living Vine Jesus. Those in servant-leadership roles have the responsibility to foster honest dialogue on the burning issues, to have a vision bigger than what was that of yesterday, to be generous and magnanimous in working out solutions and to have the gift of patient listening. Undoubtedly, the problems Luke surfaces in the early emerging churches are similar to what happens today in the Church. Somehow the branches have to remain united to the vine and the Vine Dresser, God the Creator and Redeemer. Amen. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Copyright 2012 Fr. Bertrand Buby