6th Sunday of Easter (Fr. Simham)

by | May 21, 2022

The readings today give us an insight into the life of the church and how it works. In the first reading today we are taken right into the controversy that troubled the church in the first century. The controversy was such a huge one that it almost ship-wrecked the early church. Mind you, it was still the time of the Apostles. And already it was plagued by controversies and problems.

Let me explain bit more clearly. In the first Christian community all those who came to believe in Jesus and were baptized were all Jews. The disciples who themselves were Jews, continued to practice Judaism and preached in Synagogues and the Temple. Moreover Jesus, who was a Jew himself, was considered as the fulfillment of the law of Moses and the prophets. So, all those who were converted to Christianity obviously Jews were still practicing their Jewish customs and traditions. And when Paul was converted to Christianity, it was he who dared to say that Salvation is for all. He declared himself to be the Apostles to the Gentiles. Now when the gentiles were coming in; they found it hard to accept the traditions of Judaism simply for the fact they were not used to it, especially circumcision. Hence Paul proclaimed, there is no Jew, no Gentile once you are in Christ.

This was not pleasing to the Jewish Christians. And they opposed it. This has practically divided the church into two groups. One, consisting of those who believed and supported the idea that Christians are part and parcel of Judaism and therefore they have to become Jews first and then accept faith. That means they have to be circumcised. The other group that said, “you need not become a Jew to be a Christian. Therefore, there is no need for circumcision.” It turned out to be a big problem dividing the church. And the problem has to be sorted out by the apostles. So they call for a council at Jerusalem. This was the first of the 20 of such councils we had so for. Vatican II is the one which most of us have heard about. The apostles and elders come together in Jerusalem and they came up with a decision on this matter. And the decision was “ … not to saddle you with any burdens beyond these essentials:……….”

Believe me it was a huge concession that was given to the gentiles. And indirectly it was going to have a far reaching effect on the future of the church. It allowed the Gentiles to come in freely without much burdening. And that has made the church to be what it is today; truly catholic, truly universal. Suppose if it was not decided like this the whole history of the church would have been different. It would have been still a small sect of Judaism somewhere round the corner of Palestine.

But, because it was decided that Gentiles or Pagans can come in freely, it has opened the door for the nations to become the part of the church. People like you and me: be it English, Irish, Welsh, African or Indians, were able to become Christians because of this Council’s decision. I, an Indian whose ancestors must have worshiped snakes and trees, am able to be the priest of Christ because of that big decision that was made.

And that big decision was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is clearly stated in the words of the Apostles that the decision they made was not their own but it was the decision of the Holy Spirit. They said, “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves……….”

And Jesus at the Last Supper said, “ the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.” That means, after his return to the Father he will send the Holy Spirit who will remain with the church to guide the Church. How true it is! Up and down the centuries when church had to face controversies and problems the Holy Spirit was there guiding the Church to make the right decisions. The 20 councils of the church we had so far are great reminders for us that the Holy Spirit is guiding the church. Each of the council was convoked when there a decisive problem in the church and an important decision was to be made.

Council of Jerusalem, We already discussed about the problem and how it was settled.

Council of Nicaea, Problem of Arian-ism which denied the divinity of Christ. And this resulted in formulating a decisive profession of faith which we all recite every Sunday.

Council of Trent was convoked to deal with the challenge of rise of Protestantism.

Vatican II of our times was called to respond to the challenges of modernism. Friends, controversies and problems were and are part and parcel of the history of the church. Through them all the church has emerged renewed and re-invigorated. Because as Jesus said ‘the Holy Spirit remains with the church and reminds the church of all that Jesus taught us. Amen

Fr. Showreelu Simham