Look closely at the first reading. A little background. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles is about the early days of the Church. Now we come to a point where there is a split between the Jews and the gentiles in the early church. Notice St. Paul and St. Barnabas announce that the torch will be passed to the gentiles.
Let us look closer at this to understand.
Remember, Paul is a former pharisee who was converted by Jesus on the way to Damascus. So he himself is a Jew. Notice he is referring to the other group as Gentiles. That is not a religious description. It literally means, non-Jews.
Why are the Jews rejecting Paul and Barnabas? It is not that they are unfaithful or bad persons. In fact, they are trying to be faithful to what they understood in their faith. We experienced something similar in our own Church when there was the change in liturgy from the Latin Mass to the current Paul VI Mass. Are we going to say that those who attend the Latin Mass are by default bad? Of course not. They are holding onto something that they held dear. However, the Holy Spirit is moving God’s people in a new direction. In Acts, the dynamic is similar and the Jews are understandably resistant to it.
What is the new direction?
The Jews worship God by the law. They express their faithfulness to God by being faithful to the law found in the Torah. This is why the pharisees persecuted Jesus in the Temple. The law said that you cannot work on the Sabbath. Jesus explains that is too strict an interpretation. They do not listen.
Now through Jesus, there is a new relationship with God and this is the new direction.
How do we understand it?
If you look at how the Jews spell God, they put a dash where the o is. Why? Jews do not say or write the same of God. It is so holy that they in their reverence do not speak or say his name.
Jesus comes along and calls this same God whom they consider so Holy they won’t, to this day even write his name, “Daddy”.
In our Church there is a rift between those who want Latin and those who don’t, can you imagine what kind of rift there is between those who do not believe in even saying God’s name and those who celebrate Jesus’ use of the word “Daddy”? Whoa.
This is the rift. Our faith is the next step in the evolution of salvation. This begins when the curtain in the sanctuary of the temple rips in two when Jesus died.
There is no longer a separation between us and God because of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection.
This is something the Jews did not understand and today do not understand. This means further, as Christians, we are the revolutionaries to what the Jews understood about how to be faithful to God.
The Apostles began to teach the next stage of the commandments to love God and neighbor. So our mission is not to live the law first but to live in relationship with Christ first. When we do, we begin to live as disciples and express our friendship with Jesus through our lives. Most people have it backward. They say, we are supposed to be good people and then friends of Jesus. No our friendship with Jesus makes us good people through our imitation of our friend—Jesus.
If you know me well, you know that I do not like the Baltimore Catechism. I am not too crazy about American Catechisms today either. However, the Baltimore Catechism was such a black and white system that people reverted back to the law over relationship.
For example, the Baltimore Catechism says that if you are willfully distracted in prayer, your prayer is to no avail. What a horrible thing to say, no wonder people who learned from it were so afraid of God that they did not understand a God of love. By the way, since its first publication, there are many priests who hated it.
I believe we are in a similar time to what we see in today’s reading of the Acts of the Apostles. It is a time that Christ is calling us to come to know him personally through prayer. This prayer transforms us and changes us to live a moral life but only by seeking to love God and neighbor. This is essential.
This is the key element of what it means to be a Christian. Through Christ, we now grow in our relationship with him and through that relationship, by listening to His church we live as he calls us to live. It is a daily journey in which the method of transportation is prayer. Without prayer, there is no journey.
The difficult time in our Church may be God calling us to change our direction. We can focus not on blindly following a moral law but on being friends with Jesus. He converts us to live as he calls us to be. He will, by default, lead us to live the moral law of love. However, if we do it well, we will challenge the status quo as well.
We have to live in a way that is an act of love that challenges a country built on law. Love is a higher standard than the law, as St. Paul says, so we must live by this higher standard.
Take the incidents this week. People are fighting over abortion. First, never take anything the media says to you seriously. All of it may be true but it is also manipulative. Everyone is focused on whether abortion is illegal or legal in this country. Notice two things: No one focuses on how to make the law obsolete by dealing with the issues at a higher standard than the law. One way is to live our faith in powerful ways of love. Second, and this is a political trick of the media and the politicians stay focused on what the media is telling you to focus on and you will miss the bigger issues.
When any pope speaks against abortion in the United States many people celebrate his words. Others tell him to mind his own business. However, when any Pope speaks against the US pursuit of war the same people who celebrated him tell him to mind his own business and the ones who previously told him to mind his own business celebrate him.
This past week the Pope put partial blame on the war between Russia and Ukraine on the US and NATO. That dynamic happened. Your media was focused on the Supreme Court. The Pope by the way is right. No one in the American media will touch that with a ten-foot pole except for the alternative media.
You see we are not called to live the moral life but the prophetic one and that begins with a deep personal relationship with Christ. This is what split the Jews and the Gentiles in today’s reading. It is a call to a whole new way of living our faith in God and it changes everything. The first step on that path is daily prayer as the Pope says as well. If we become so prophetic, we will challenge the status quo always.
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