Father Donald Senior, CP

May 26: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Our hearts are all the same

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Rv 21:10-14, 22-23; Jn 14:23-29

Not long ago I listened to a radio interview about Berry Gordy, the man who founded the Motown sound in 1959 and introduced Diana Ross and the Supremes, one of the most successful music acts in U.S. history, to the world. 

Gordy had worked at a Ford plant on the assembly line but had an ear for music and a head for business. One of his daring moves, I learned, was to insist that the African American singer Diana Ross and her associates be promoted on what were, to that point, “white” radio stations. When asked why he did so, Gordy responded that he believed that in spite of our racial and economic differences, “everyone’s heart is the same,” and people would respond to beautiful and lively music. 

He was right and opened the door to subsequent generations of black musicians.

What’s the connection to today’s readings? The first reading for this Sunday is from Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles and recounts one of the most daring and momentous decisions of the early church.

One of the blessings for the church in our modern times has been a deeper realization of how much our Christian faith is rooted in Judaism: Jesus, of course, was Jewish, so was Mary, and so were all of the characters we hear about in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Early Jewish Christians earnestly believed that in recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah and believing in him as the beloved Son of God, they were not leaving or betraying their Jewish heritage, but living it to the full.

This posed the question of what to do about Gentiles who also were drawn to Jesus. Was it possible to believe fully in Jesus without being Jewish? The question may seem strange to us 21 centuries of Christian faith later, but to the first generation of Christians it was a burning issue. 

While some leaders like Paul and Barnabas, and Peter himself, came to see — not without struggle — that God was offering the gift of salvation in Jesus’ name to non-Jews as well. Many earnest Jewish Christians were opposed to the idea. They believed if Gentiles wanted to be followers of Jesus, they should first become Jewish converts — keeping the Sabbath, undergoing circumcision if male, eating only a kosher diet, observing the marriage laws and other moral codes of Judaism.

We hear this viewpoint loud and clear in the opening lines of our first reading today: “Unless you [Gentiles] are circumscribed according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Earlier in Acts when Peter dared (at the Spirit’s prompting) to baptize Cornelius, a Roman centurion, the leaders in Jerusalem reprimanded him. When these same Jewish Christian apostles heard that people had gone to Antioch and baptized Greeks, they were upset again and sent Barnabas to see what was going on.

No wonder the church leaders had to call a crucial meeting in Jerusalem to settle things. This is the meeting we hear about in today’s reading.

Paul and Barnabas, champions of the mission to the Gentiles, were there, as were James and the other Jerusalem apostles who were concerned with maintaining their Jewish roots. Peter was there, too, and would play his usual mediating role (a sign of the papal ministry to come?). 

After what Luke, the author of Acts, notes politely as “no little discussion and debate,” the assembly agreed God made “no distinctions” among peoples and that the inclusion of Gentiles into the community of Jesus was God’s will prompted by the Spirit of Jesus. The assembly sent out a letter to the Gentile churches to be delivered by Paul and Barnabas saying that “no burden would be placed on you.”

Hearts open to God’s Spirit; respect for people very different from oneself; understanding that God embraced all people without distinction — this is the fundamental message of our Scriptures this Sunday. In the eyes of God, “everyone’s heart is the same.”



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