The sixth Sunday of Easter moves us toward the feast of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early Church. Today’s Gospel describes Jesus at the Last Supper, foretelling the coming of the Spirit to the community of Jesus. Jesus combines the promise of the Spirit with his gift of peace to his disciples. He foresees that the community must be grounded in his love, which provides peace, to face the tumult of the Crucifixion, and later, the trials of the early Church.
Grounded in Jesus, the community can then be open to the Spirit who will continually guide, remind, and renew them in their life together. The gift of peace from Jesus is not a worldly peace through which the powerful crush opposition. It is not a complacent or private peace. The peace of Jesus instead seeks and works toward peace throughout the world, guided by the Spirit.
Today’s passage from Acts captures the beginning and the conclusion of what became known as the Jerusalem Council. It is well worth studying all of Acts 15, meant to provide an example of responsible leadership for the wider Church. There was substantial conflict within the community over what is necessary for unity in the diverse community of Jews and Gentiles. We can notice some key characteristics of the actions of the leadership.
The leaders acknowledged the reality of a significant conflict without minimizing it. They received and fully honored the diverse experiences of persons of different backgrounds. They worked with an accepted authority structure and a process to move toward resolution. They were committed to discern the action and will of the Spirit, with a deep respect for testimony about how the Spirit was working. They avoided placing unneeded burdens on anyone. And afterward, they continued to observe the ongoing action of the Spirit as the decision was implemented.
What is Essential?
The issues weighed by the Jerusalem Council in our passage from Acts were related to circumcision as a requirement, and to table fellowship. A strong theological tradition held that traditional practices were essential, and the community genuinely sought to maintain continuity with the roots of their faith. Peter’s observation about how the Spirit was actively working in their midst pointed the leaders in a new direction. Then James reminded them that the scriptural tradition also pointed to fully welcoming the Gentiles into God’s community.
It is a profound challenge for leaders in our own parishes when encountering issues that can fracture a community. What is essential and what is not? What are we called to em- brace, or called to lay down? Acknowledging conflict and working toward resolution is an essential function for our parishes, because Christ calls us to live in unity. We are called to open our hearts, mine our tradition, and observe the activity of the Spirit.BACK TO LIST