This weekend’s readings drag us deeper into the details of the acts of the Apostles. My guess is that most of us don’t actually listen to nitty-gritty of these passages, and walk away vaguely remembering something about Paul and Barnabas – or was it Barsabbas? or both?
It’s peculiar that we brush these episodes aside, because the decisions they recount changed history. If the Apostles had not determined that circumcision and certain Jewish dietary laws were not necessary to be a Christian, Christianity likely would not have spread as quickly as it did (though it’s rapid ascent was not unilaterally good). Those of us whose ancestors were among the Gentiles might not have been welcomed into Christianity, and even if we had been, our lifestyles and practices would look very different than they do now.
‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us
not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities,
namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols,
from blood, from meats of strangled animals,
and from unlawful marriage.
If you keep free of these,
you will be doing what is right.
There has to be more to this discipleship thing than just avoiding the wrong foods and the wrong marriages, right? Of course there is, and a big piece of advice on how to follow Christ is given to us in the Gospel for this weekend.
Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
So is it by loving him that we keep his word, or is keeping his word something we will do to manifest our love? And what the heck is his word? That’s where we get ourselves into trouble.
Humans are wont to bicker, and as most of us religious people have that tiny flaw of being human, we end up hollering at each other too sometimes. All of us think that we are the ones who are following Jesus’ word. If only everyone could read between the lines and see that Jesus’ instructions were to act exactly as I do, this would all be so much simpler!
If I have to narrow it down to one word, I’m going to go with Love. Last week’s readings gave us this:
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
So we argue still over what love looks like. I hear all sorts of things defended in the name of love that don’t look much like love to me, but I’m not the final arbiter in what is loving and what is not, thank heavens.
Jesus promises an Advocate, the Paraclete, to teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. We’re coming up on Pentecost, when that Holy Spirit is set to make her entrance. We know that this advocate doesn’t make the confusion, bickering, and questions go away, but we still entrust ourselves to this promise, knowing that the question “how do we best love?” is one worth answering.