by Fr. Dumisani Vilakati
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First reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Responsorial: psalm Psalm 67
Second reading: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
Gospel: John 14:23-29
This Sunday the readings emphasise the importance of attaining righteousness and having peace in Christ by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
The first reading recalls a serious controversy concerning the identity markers of righteousness. Some of the brothers said that only those circumcised in accordance with the Law of Moses could rightly call themselves righteous. Yet we know that Paul and Barnabas carried out a successful mission among the uncircumcised, i.e. non-Jews. In fact God had already granted his Spirit to the uncircumcised (Cf. Acts 10-11). We know that the practice of circumcision had been expressly commanded by God to Abraham (Gen 17:9-14, 23-27). As such, we cannot really blame those who advanced obligatory circumcision.
The matter is thus brought before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for decision. The answer is very clear: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose no further burden upon you”. Non-Jewish believers need not undergo circumcision. Righteousness is a free gift that God gives to his people. Moreover, we recall that even Abraham himself was reckoned unto righteousness prior to being circumcised (Gen 15:6). If God could do it for Abraham, he will also do it for those who have become Christians as Paul argues so well in the letter to the Romans (Rom 4).
We have to appreciate the role of the Holy Spirit in the decision making processes of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. It is by listening to the Holy Spirit that non-Jews are admitted into the Christian stable without going through circumcision. In our local Christian communities do we listen to the Holy Spirit when making decisions or we have pre-packaged answers? The reasoning of the apostles is that they don’t want to place a burden on non-Jews. Are there any unnecessary burdens that we place on people who are trying to lead a Christian life?
The responsorial psalm speaks of nations rejoicing and exulting before God. In this song we can already foresee the plan of God which is to save all of humanity. All peoples, right up to the ends of the earth, are invited to be part of the people of God. Even his blessing descends upon all the peoples and his salvation is spread out among all the peoples. There is a very clear unity and intersection between what is called the people of God, being Israel, and the nations.
The second reading speaks of a vision where John is taken up in spirit to a great and high mountain in such a way that he is enabled to see the Holy City Jerusalem coming out of Heaven. Its beauty is unequaled as it shines like a precious stone. The number twelve abounds in the reading as we are told of twelve gates, twelve angels, names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, the wall with twelve foundations and twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb. Obviously the number twelve is symbolic and alludes to matters of universality and completeness which is representative of all nations. In the ancient world the gates of the city were locations where elders sat to administer justice (Cf. Dt. 21:18-21).
The number of gates means that justice will reign in the Holy City as we do not only speak of one gate but rather twelve. Attaining righteousness is thus possible in the Holy City. Notice too that John sees these things whilst in the spirit. Only the person who is in the spirit is able to foresee a bright future for all in God.
The gospel continues on the last discourses of Jesus. This time it is Judas -not the Iscariot- who asks about Jesus’ manifestation to his disciples and not to the world. Jesus’ response speaks of the ways of being a disciple and being of the world. Being a disciple includes being receptive to the Holy Spirit, to love, to peace and knowing that one is never alone. On the other hand the world troubles the heart and brings about fear. “Do not let your heart be troubled, and let it not fear”.
Two things are thus presented as robbing us of closeness to God, the Holy Spirit, love and peace namely a troubled heart and fear. A troubled heart explains the condition of a Christian who is not sure of his salvation. Such a Christian is attracted by all sorts of fads that come around.
Fear is the great thief of joy and peace. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, after having committed sin hid from God as they were afraid that they were naked. This led to the loss of life in the Garden of Eden. On a number of occasions Jesus exhorts his disciples not to be afraid. Fear is the opposite of trust. When we trust God we have no reason to fear. In fact, Sacred Scripture uses the same word to describe trust and faith. A person who lacks trust in God has no faith in God. It is only with the assistance of the Holy Spirit that a person can truly trust and have faith in God.