The "Lessons" of Jerusalem
B16's first major event of the fall begins Sunday as he opens the Synod of Bishops on the Word. Only the second meeting of the global episcopate to take place during his pontificate, in deference to this year's celebration of "Apostle to the Gentiles," the three-week gathering's opening liturgy won't be taking place at the usual venue of St Peter's, but at St Paul's Outside the Walls.
Noting that "each council or synod in the church is 'an event of the Spirit,'" Benedict turned this morning at his general audience to the first such meeting: the Council of Jerusalem, which took place in 50 AD:
“The assembly took place at a time of major tensions within the original community.” The debate was especially heated “over the issue of whether Pagans who joined the faith had to be circumcised or were instead exempt from the Law of Moses; closely related to this were dietary rules of purity and impurity and the Sabbath.”CNS' Synod page is up and running, and featuring, among other things, reflections from the American participants, a USCCB page for the event's likewise been rolled out.
Against those who saw justice in the respect of the law, Paul offered “his Gospel of freedom from the law after the encounter with the Risen Christ.”
As he wrote in the Letter to the Galatians “in the Gospel of freedom Christ is justice” for “he is fully expressed in serving his brothers.”
The Council of Jerusalem “expressed the action of the Holy Spirit,” which for Paul “is the decisive recognition that freedom is shared by all those who took part in it, which is the freedom Christ gave us” in order that “we not let the yoke the slavery be imposed upon us. [. . .] Paul had come to realise that the grace of Christ had released the Gentiles from the rules of the Law of Moses.”
The other episode the Pope mentioned was the “Cyrene incident” in Turkey, involving a dispute of whether “Jews and Pagans could eat at the same table.” This was “another crucial component of the Law of Moses that separated practicing Jews from Pagans over the issue of dietary purity and impurity.”
“Initially Peter shared the table with either group but when guests arrived James began avoiding the table of non-Jews and began telling Paul that ‘you who are Jews live with Pagans”. But for Paul “separation from Pagans is a reason to divide. [. . .] If justice is done in accordance with Christ what sense is there in these rules?”
For Peter what mattered was “not losing Jews who had joined Christianity, for Paul it was not belittling the salvific value of Christ’s death for all believers.”
The incident in Antioch taught “a lesson to both Peter and Paul,” which is “only an open and sincere dialogue can lead onto the Church’s path.”
“The kingdom of God is not about food, but about justice and peace,” said the Pope. “The lesson that we too must learn is to let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, trying to live in freedom, whose guidance becomes real in service.”