NO Distinction!Fr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is risen!
“They have to keep the rules, just like us!” Yeah, that’s true. We should all be held to the same standard. But wait a tick, have you kept the “rules” you expect others to keep? I know it’s hard to get your mind to shift from “what should be” to “what is,” but that’s what our lesson requires today.
And there’s the rub, dear ones. But what if the purpose of the “rules” in the first place wasn’t about “keeping” them as much as learning from them? What if the “rules” aren’t “rules” at all, but wisdom?
Look at our lesson today in Acts 15:5-12:
IN THOSE DAYS, some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “it is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Here’s the first real crisis among the newly formed Church. And it’s a big one! In fact, this moment we are reading about today is the shift, the “tipping point,” that transfigures the early Church from just one more group of Jews who differ in theology to a Church that will spread through the whole world. In other words, this is a big deal! And it all has to do with identity.
You see, when St. Peter witnessed the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius and his household, this opened the floodgates of Gentiles becoming Christians. And this made certain Jewish converts to the Faith very nervous. Jesus was their Messiah, a Jewish Messiah meant for a Jewish people, right? And if these Gentiles are going to be allowed into the Church then they have to keep the Jewish Law too, just like us, right? Well, not so much. In fact, this moment will precipitate the very first Council in the Church’s history. No one wanted to dismiss the concerns of some, but they all had to speak with one voice about this central issue of the identity of this new Church in the world. Are we going to be just another sect of Judaism, or are we meant by the Holy Spirit to be something more?
Notice the principle St. Peter declares: “he (meaning the Holy Spirit) made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” But what about the rules, St. Peter? The answer is clear, the purpose of the Law of Moses wasn’t to make us follow rules as much as prove to us we will never be able to say to God “I’ve kept all your rules, now You have to let me into heaven.” We ALL need mercy. We ALL need to say moment by moment “Lord, have mercy.” AND we all need to constantly offer our lives, our daily lives, to God and ask for the strength to be Christian, and not just call ourselves Christian.
Today, do you expect others to keep rules you, yourself, don’t keep? Do you expect that God expects you to make sure the rules are kept by others? Perhaps it’s time to realize I have more than enough to take care of in dealing with my own sins before I can ever judge someone else. It’s only by God’s grace I will ever be Orthodox on Purpose!
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