Some men came down from Judaea and taught the brothers, ‘Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved.’ This led to disagreement, and after Paul and Barnabas had had a long argument with these men it was arranged that Paul and Barnabas and others of the church should go up to Jerusalem and discuss the problem with the apostles and elders.
Then the apostles and elders decided to choose delegates to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; the whole church concurred with this. They chose Judas known as Barsabbas and Silas, both leading men in the brotherhood, and gave them this letter to take with them:
‘The apostles and elders, your brothers, send greetings to the brothers of pagan birth in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. We hear that some of our members have disturbed you with their demands and have unsettled your minds. They acted without any authority from us; and so we have decided unanimously to elect delegates and to send them to you with Barnabas and Paul, men we highly respect who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly we are sending you Judas and Silas, who will confirm by word of mouth what we have written in this letter.
It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols; from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication. Avoid these, and you will do what is right. Farewell.’
First reading for the 6th Sunday of Easter
The issue then was ‘Do you have to be a Jew to respond most fully to God, to live in covenant with him?’ And the answer was ‘No. Because of Jesus the messianic age has dawned. As prophesied the nations now turn to the God who called Israel to himself. But they come not as Jews but as the nations, in their own right – not in competition with Israel, and not to supersede Israel, but as further parts of the human family, responding to the One God.
The Jews who know Jesus as Lord simply call on the people of the nations who know Jesus as Lord, to be good people, living in accord with their faith in the one God, true to his word.
In our day what have we Christians to say to those beyond our ‘tribe’ How do we honour their difference and – because God is God and they are his creatures – their already being children of God? To Jews? To Muslims? To people of other beliefs?
- Does our belief in the Church, and Baptism, lead us – even unconsciously – to diminish and alienate others?
- Or does our belief in God and virtue allow us to recognise and honour – and be assisted by – all that is good and godly in them?
Stained glass. Couvent des Jacobins, Toulouse. Photograph (c) 2018, Allen Morris.