Unless you are circumcised you cannot be saved. SAY WHAT?! Moving right along, what do stringent requirements have to do with salvation? Anyone want to take a stab at this? Welcome to suspense, we will get that answer a little later. Do not worry, I am feeling very long winded today, we should have an intermission in about 45 minutes.
In our first reading today, we see that there were some people from Judea that were causing some problems in Antioch. We are able to see that some of the people were insisting on the stringent requirements for salvation (The Mosaic Law). Ultimately what happens is the church in Antioch sends a convoy to Jerusalem, which thankfully an agreement was settled. The church in Jerusalem said, “Uh, guys, no extra burdens are to be laid on the new converts. That is no burdens that are unnecessary.”
Sounds fair enough, right? But what was considered necessary? Abstention from meat sacrifices to idols, the non-consumption of blood and the meat of strangled animals, and yes the avoidance of inappropriate sexual relations (unlawful marriages).
What is rather interesting is, not only for what is mentioned but also for what is not. In trying to be sure, the community of Jerusalem was presupposing dedication to the cause of the Lord Jesus, but they were also rather reluctant to pile on additional obligations on the new converts. Ya Jerusalem huh?
What about those strangled animals and blood? Are they still prohibited? Now what about idolatry? There just might be a contemporary parallel to this, when animals are slaughtered and sacrificed for the golden calves of money and power? Keep in mind now, that if these practices were currently permissible, there would have been others to take their place in the catalogue of what is strictly necessary?
We read in the First Letter to Timothy that women were not to speak in the church. Then there is the letter to Titus, for its part, directs, that bishops must be of irreproachable character. They should not be heavy drinkers (coffee is the exception) or money grubbers. And, yes, they should only be married once – their children solid believers and respectful. What about today, what are the practices that we have that seem strictly necessary? Inclusive language? Latin Masses? Male priests? Short sermons?
Probably one of the most seductive temptations of the believer is to identify the will of God with the will of the believer, and not the other way around. God’s will is sadly squeezed into patriotism, rightism, capitalism, feminism, hiearchry, civil law, financial success, ecclesiastical tradition, feminism. Even in extreme cases, the supposed will of God can be harnessed to justify leaving a spouse, breaking a promise, even killing someone, whether communist, criminal or oppressor. As we see today, the supposed will of God is used to hate people who do think like everyone else, or identify as everyone else.
The delusion has occurred when philosophers have mauled the eternal and necessary ‘law of nature’ on behalf of cultural prejudice, class interest, or personal preference. Natural law has sometimes been used to justify the most horrendous of crimes. More often it has been manipulated to legitimate slavery, domination of women, and the exploitation of the poor.
Among the churches, has it ever been heard that a certain practice can never be changed, since it is the will of God? And yet, has the practice been much more significant than the act of circumcision? Clearly circumcision was an important issue. However, some of the antagonists seem to have given it the status of an unchangeable law.
Question of the hour, how do we escape fooling ourselves? How do we avoid servitude to merely human laws while we neglect the law of God? How do we guard against the tendancy to worship our temporal and cultural fabrications?
Jesus, in the fourth Gospel, promises the Holy Spirit to instruct us in everything and reminds us of all He revealed. Is this what led the Jerusalem community to forswear putting heavy burdens on its new believers?
It is Jesus and His word that we first and always remember. Therefore, the Holy Spirit instructs us. When we look at Christ primarily in Scripture, it is clear what He is saying: We need repentance; salvation is offered us in His redeeming death and resurrection; and we are called to imitate Him in our mission to the world. We likewise encounter Him in our community, under the blessing of the Holy Spirit. So also came our foundational creeds. Moreover, our holy sacramental signs recall and reenact Jesus’ saving power.
One bright truth, we should never forget. All ideologies and requirements, all popes and rituals, all theologians and mystics, all laws and traditions, would mean nothing to us as Catholics, if Christ is not risen and has not saved us.