Bible Meditation: When Cultures Collide

Sunday May 22, 2022, Sixth Sunday of Easter, four texts will be read.
First reading Book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15, 1-2.22-29).
Psalm 66.
Second reading Book of Revelation (Rev 21, 10-14.22-23).
The Gospel according to Saint John (Jn 14, 23-29).

Acts of the Apostles, 15, 1-2.22-29

In those days people from Judea to Antioch taught the brethren saying, “If you do not accept circumcision according to the custom which comes from Moses, you cannot be saved.” This provoked a confrontation as well as a lively discussion initiated by Paul and Barnabas against these people. So it was decided that Paul and Barnabas, with some other brothers, would go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and Elders to discuss this matter.
The Apostles and the Elders decided with the whole Church to choose among themselves men whom they would send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They were men who had authority among the brethren:
Jude, also called Barsabbas, and Silas.
This is what they wrote with their own hand: “Apostles and Elders, your brothers, to your brothers from the Gentiles, who reside in Antioch, in Syria and in Cilicia, greetings! Considering that some of our people, as we learned, went, without any mandate from our part, to make remarks which caused confusion and disarray among you, we took the decision, unanimously, to choose men whom we send to you, with our beloved brothers Barnabas and Paul, they who gave their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We therefore send you Jude and Silas, who will confirm to you verbally the following: The Holy Spirit and ourselves have decided not to impose on you any obligations other than these, which are essential: you abstain from meats offered in sacrifice to idols, blood, unbled meats and illegitimate unions. You will do well if you keep yourself from all this. Good luck ! »

Should we follow the customs of Judaism to be saved?

The Acts of the Apostles relate the first crisis experienced by the young Christian community until now composed almost exclusively of Jews. Many Greeks of Antioch soon adhere to the faith without going through Judaism (Acts 11, 20-21). This massive conversion scandalizes the Jews who, coming from Jerusalem, want to force the newcomers to observe the Law, in particular circumcision.

Behind these ritual quarrels arises a fundamental question: should one follow the customs of Judaism to be saved or is another way possible? It is neither more nor less the future of Christianity as we have known it since then that is at stake in this controversy. It is reborn each time the Gospel message opens up to new cultures whose customs may contradict the religious laws in place.

This is because Jewish exclusivism regarding the salvation received from the Lord has serious foundations. Because of its particular vocation, Israel is the repository of essential values: the knowledge and worship of the true God, the hope of salvation enclosed in the covenant and the promises. Thus, he must separate himself radically from foreign nations so as not to be contaminated by their paganism (Deuteronomy 7, 1-5).

Necessity to find a compromise with the pagans

However, at the time of Jesus, the Jewish community also opened up to pagans of good will. Therefore, it is necessary to find a compromise between the two groups which are intimately linked by the same divine words. An issue that remains significant until today, Christians being constantly invited to remember that they come from Judaism.

And to be a Jew is to be circumcised, that is to say marked with the physical sign of the covenant, a rite to which Jesus himself complied. It should be noted that if this sign is a religious marker, it is not therefore exclusive, other peoples practicing it until today. But in the time of the apostles, circumcision is also a fundamental sign of memory.

New conditions for the first Christians

Yet at the Jerusalem meeting, the apostles guided by the Holy Spirit, decide that Christian Jews will renounce imposing circumcision on pagans; in “exchange”, the latter will comply with a few legal requirements: Illegitimate unions are prohibited, as is the consumption of meat that has not been bled, the blood being, in the Jewish tradition, the living man himself (Leviticus 17, 10 -14).

More essential is the prohibition of meat immolated to idols, a formidable trap clearly denounced by the Law: “Beware of making a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, lest, prostituting themselves to their gods and offering sacrifices to them, they will invite you, and you will eat of their victims” (Exodus 34, 15).

This is the problem that arose in Antioch during the Eucharists. This summit of the newly Christian worship life could only be truly “the Lord’s Supper” if the guests shared the same food, were fully united among themselves, without judgment towards each other, filled with compassion and mutual understanding. . The grammar of any act of communion and living well together.

Brother Irenaeus is a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Chevetogne, Belgium. This community brings together monks who pray according to the Roman and Byzantine rite.

We want to thank the writer of this write-up for this awesome material

Bible Meditation: When Cultures Collide

You can view our social media profiles here as well as other pages on related topics here.