6th Sunday of Easter Year C
Theme of the week: The Spirit of Truth reminds us of Christ teachings. Throughout history, the Holy Spirit unites us into One Church as He adds to our understanding of Christ’s teachings.
The First Reading describes an important episode in the history of the early Church. As the disciples started baptising Gentiles into the Church, some Jewish converts came to the Church at Antioch and attempted to impose the Jewish law of circumcision on the Gentiles. This argument was in fact not a new one. Gal 2:11-14 described an earlier instance where Paul disagreed with Peter because the latter would not share table-fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles. To resolve this issue, Paul and Barnabas travel to the Head Church at Jerusalem to ask the Apostles for a ruling. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles ruled that circumcision is not necessary. However, in what appears to be a compromise (remembering that Peter himself was of a different opinion to Paul in the earlier incident), the Apostles forbade the partaking of blood, meat from strangled animals, meat sacrificed to idols, and meat from marriage of certain kindred.
The Second Reading portrayed a vision of heaven, with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on the gates of the New Jerusalem. In the context of the issue of Gentile salvation, the city rests on twelve foundation stones, each inscribed with an Apostle’s name. In this way, the twelve Apostles are the new twelve tribes, signifying that the call of salvation goes to all of humanity, not just the nation of Israel. Importantly too, the twelve foundation stones and the inscription of the Apostles’ name also indicates that the New Jerusalem is founded on solid foundation – the Apostolic foundation. In the New Jerusalem, there is no longer a need for temples, as God Almighty and Christ the Lamb are the Temple (verse 22). There is no longer a need for a place to help humans reach out to God, as God is living in their midst. What a wonderful vision!
In the Gospel, before his departure, Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit to teach us everything and to remind us of his teachings. Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is not only to reemphasise Jesus teachings, but also to add to our understanding of these teachings. The Holy Spirit is alive and living in us today, and continues to reveal God’s truth to us.
Doctrinal disagreements are not a new phenomenon in the Church. Today, in the age of a global Church connected by Internet and social media; and challenged by secular values and relativism, doctrinal disagreements are likely to draw even sharper oppositions, even at the highest level in the Church hierarchy. In discerning opposing concerns and viewpoints, it is important that we appreciate both the strengths and weaknesses of opposing viewpoints. As we read in the first reading, this was exactly what the Apostles did in the early Church. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the early church fathers addressed the needs and aspirations of opposing sides so that each may accommodate the other’s preferences. It is through opening our hearts to be guided by the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures; and discerning with charity and sensitivity; that we may all stay united in the Lord even in the face of disagreements.