2 May. Thursday of the 5th week of Easter
Acts 15:7ff. Speeches by Peter and James in support of Paul’s missionary practice.
John 15:9ff. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
First Reading: Acts 15:7-21
After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.
After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord – even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.’ Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”
Gospel: John 15:9-11
Jesus said to them: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
What persuaded the church leaders in the Jerusalem Council to give their blessing to the missionary work of Paul among the pagans was largely the supportive attitude of St. Peter. Just like Paul, Peter had personally found a great spirit of love and openness to the faith among non-baptized gentiles, who were enthusiastic for the message of Jesus. He had witnessed a kind of second Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the hearts of Cornelius and his family, non-baptized Romans, just as truly as when the Spirit came upon the disciples of Jesus in the upper room (Acts 10:44-46). So convinced was Peter that this was God’s work that he at once baptized these people in the name of Jesus Christ. These Roman pagans were not required first to be circumcised, for this was clearly the will of Jesus. Naturally, therefore, Peter supported Paul and Barnabas for their heroic work in spreading the faith to the Gentiles.
This story contains some good advice for church people in every age, never to deny the existence of the Holy Spirit wherever affection, concern, patience, and self-sacrifice are found, even if they are mixed with pagan elements. Cornelius and his people probably still clung to many pagan, superstitious ideas long after their baptism. Possibly their moral principles did not fully measure up to those of the first disciples of Jesus. Yet, Peter had them baptised without delay. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Evangelisation involves much more than a theological victory for one side over another; it produces reconciliation within the household of the faith. It requires that all of us be prepared to affirm and foster life in others, in the spirit of Jesus clear intention: “that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”