First Reading: Acts 15:22-31
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsab'bas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, with the following letter: "The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cili'cia, greeting. Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell." So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 57:8-10, 12
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to thee among the nations. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let thy glory be over all the earth!
Gospel: John 15:12-17
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.
When I was in graduate school studying theology, one of my favorite topics was how Church doctrine developed. In the reading from Acts for today, we see an early example of development of doctrine in the conclusion of a council in Jerusalem of the Apostles and first bishops.
They are considering whether Gentiles should be required to fulfill all of the Jewish laws, such as the circumcision of males and other external practices. The Church leaders, directed by the Holy Spirit, realize that certain of the Jewish laws have moral grounds, such as the idolatry of eating animals sacrificed to false gods or unchastity, while other laws pertain to practices symbolic of the Old Covenant before the coming of Christ. The Church was able to step back and see what was really required to be a follower of Christ and began to develop from the traditions of Judaism with freedom from the old law.
God did not give the laws to the Israelites simply to abandon them, but He made them to prefigure something greater. These laws were about purification of the body, but Jesus wants to purify our hearts.
After the laws had been given to the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy 30:6, God tells His chosen people how they will disobey Him and be scattered throughout the land, but then He will bring them back together, and “the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul, that you may live.” He says even in Deuteronomy that the laws are for a New Covenant.
As Christians, we are not bound by the laws of the Old Covenant, but the laws of the New Covenant. In Jesus’ preaching we learn that the Ten Commandments are still necessary to follow, but the other practical laws are not part of the New Covenant. The laws we follow are those that transform our hearts and allow God to circumcise our hearts, so that we may live.
Jesus tells us that we are no longer servants, but His friends, that is, if we do what He commands us. We have been chosen by Him, and appointed by Him to bear good fruit. We are to love one another, and to give our lives for each other. This is a lot to ask of us, but Christ does not leave us alone, He gives us grace through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides the Church in Her doctrine, and the Holy Spirit guides us in our daily actions. We are to surrender our hearts to Christ, to learn from Him how to love.
We are living in the New Covenant, let us allow our hearts to be transformed in this season of Easter joy. How are you allowing God to transform you?
Susanna Spencer once studied theology and philosophy, but now happily cares for her three adorable little girls and her dear husband. You can find out more about her here.