This week we have been hearing in our first readings from the Acts of the Apostles, about the controversy concerning the Gentiles. As the Church grew and grew, many people from all walks of life began to turn to the Lord. That’s the kind of thing we want to have happen. But as the Church grew, it became time to clarify which traditions were just traditions and which really pertained to the faith. How much of the Judaic faith was really necessary for salvation in Christ?
Many of the traditions had to go. Jesus himself chastised the Pharisees and Scribes often enough for the parts of the law that they rigorously defended when they should long ago have been dismissed as scrupulous and irrelevant. But not everything would have to go. Certainly there were tenets of Judaic faith that should and do apply to Christians too. We retain a lot of Judaic faith in our own practice of religion even to this day: the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, even the berekah prayer form is part of our Liturgy right now. So the task for the Church was to untangle what needed to stay, and what had to go.
The blueprint for them is as it is for us: the Gospel. What traditions pertained to the great love that Christ brought us and called us to live for God and neighbor? Those we should keep. What traditions merely amounted to undue burden on our brothers and sisters and became irrelevant in the light of the Gospel? Those would have to go.
We’ll see in the coming days that the Church figured this out. We know they did, or we would probably not be around today. But we still have to figure it out sometimes, I think. As we call Catholics to come home, we have to figure out how to welcome them back. Maybe they have been put off long ago by irrelevant rules that amounted to undue burden. We have to teach them what parts of our faith are Gospel values and put aside those things that are not.
Controversies like the one with which the early Church wrestled teach us things. We are forced to examine our faith and keep it lively and fresh, instead of letting it grow dim and lifeless. Keeping our eye on the Gospel will help us to welcome people home, to the Church and to the family of God.