Associate Rector Reflects
"And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles."
I was listening to Pray as You Go, a Jesuit (Ignatian) daily meditation, on May 23rd as I lay in the dark. I had not listened in the morning, so I was listening before I fell asleep. The entire passage was Acts 15:1-12, and the above words were the last sentence.
In case you don't read the entire passage, disciples from Judea came to tell Paul that he could not make Christians from Gentiles unless the Gentiles first became Jews, that is, they were circumcised and obeyed the Law. Paul disagreed. He had been preaching Christ to Gentiles and they had been responding with great joy. Harrumph, thought Paul. But Paul and his crew headed to Jerusalem to make their case, and they told everyone along the way what a mighty work God had done among the Gentiles, building support along the way.
When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem, they told their Jewish fellow disciples about how God had done great things among the Gentiles; and things were going OK until some Pharisee disciples insisted, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses," in verse 5. Whoa! Pharisee believers? We remember how adversarial Pharisees were, generally, to Jesus; yet here they are as believers in Jesus. Believers. But believers who still think the Law is very important.
Then Peter speaks in favor of allowing Gentiles to become Christians without becoming Jews. Peter had had his own experience with the Gentile Cornelius (see Acts 10), and so he defends Paul's practice of skipping circumcision.
And after Peter speaks, there is this statement at the beginning of this article, about how they all fell silent and listened. Listened. They stopped arguing and listened. And the course of Christianity was changed because after they had listened, they agreed that God was working with the Gentiles and that Gentiles should not be burdened with the beloved Law. The Law had not saved them, so why should they require non-Jewish followers of Jesus to take on the burden.
They changed their minds. But first they listened.
I usually fall asleep as I listen to the meditations on Pray as You Go; but that night I was more awake, thinking about the good work those disciples did. They disagreed. They held diametrically opposed views about the need for Gentiles to follow the Law. The law of Moses is what made Jews who they were. The law was their precious gift, more precious than the temple. And yet, they listened to the other side make a case. They listened. And they changed their minds.
I wonder if we, as followers of Jesus, might do the same when we oppose one another. Might we fall silent? Might we listen? We may not change our minds, but in this time of ranting over every political issue, wouldn't it be lovely to fall silent for a bit, and listen. I wonder what would happen.
The Rev, Cynthia Caruso