Daily Homily: It Was I Who Chose You

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

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Acts 15:22-31
Psalm 57:8-9, 10 and 12
John 15:12-17

The Gospel today proclaims the great truth that we have been chosen by God. The first election took place from all eternity. As Saint Paul says in the Letter to the Ephesians: God chose us in Christ «before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him» (1:4). This choice was that we become his children: «He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ» (1:5).

In the Old Testament, we see that God chose Noah to save the human race, Abraham to be our father in faith, the people of Israel to be his own and share in his holiness; Moses to lead his people out of slavery and through the desert; Joshua to lead the people into the promised land; David to be a royal shepherd after his own heart; prophets to communicate his will to the people. These men and women were chosen not because of their own merits, but rather freely by God. Furthermore, in spite of their weakness and fragility and lapses into sin, they responded to God’s initiative in faith and love. God continually chooses us out of love so that we in turn continually renew our choice of him: «I will be their God and they shall be my people» (Ezekiel 37:27; Jeremiah 31:33).

Before choosing the apostles, Jesus spent the night in prayer on the mountain. «The calling of the disciples is a prayer event; it is as if they were begotten in prayer, in intimacy with the Father» (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 170). The calling of the apostles is fruit of Jesus’ communion with the Father. On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus reminds his apostles that they have become his his friends and are no longer slaves. This new friendship-communion with God through Jesus Christ is a fruit of his passion and death. His love for us in his passion becomes the standard and model we are to imitate: «Love one another as I love you».

Not only does Jesus give his apostles the new commandment of love, he also appoints his apostles for three things. First, the apostles are to go out; they are sent to the whole world in order to bring all nations to faith in Christ. Second, the are appointed to bear fruit. This fruit is the fruit of conversion to the faith and the interior and spiritual fruit of love, joy and peace. Thirdly, they are appointed to bear fruit that is lasting; it is a fruit that will not destroyed by death and sin (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 15, 3, n. 2027).

Today’s first reading records the concluding letter of the Council of Jerusalem. It honestly recognizes the mistake of some members of the Church in Jerusalem, who acted without a mandate from the Church. These Jewish Christians upset the Church in Antioch through their teachings and disturbed the peace that had received through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Paul and Barnabas were correct in their teaching, but only represented one side of the debate. And so Jerusalem sent Judas and Silas along with them to Antioch to confirm the message of the Council: «It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us, not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage». These last conditions are necessary for communal life between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

The mandate to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, William Kurz, SJ comments, «persisted as a serious concern among mixed Jewish-Gentile Christian communities and is addressed at length by Paul in 1 Cor 8-10. Even though sacrificed meat was sometimes the readiest source of meat for poor people, the fact that it had first been offered to idols made it problematic not only for Jews but particularly also for Christians who understood that what is offered to idols is really offered to demons (1 Cor 10:20-21). Eating such meat was also liable to mislead new Christians into relapsing into their previous idolatrous practices» (Kurz, Acts of the Apostles, Baker Academic, 242).

The Church in Antioch received the letter and the Council’s decision with joy. The bonds of unity and charity between Jerusalem and Antioch were strengthened. The Council’s decision in favor of freedom from the burden of the Law of Moses gave a new impulse to the missionary outreach of Paul. The Holy Spirit, who was at work in the Council of Jerusalem, would lead Paul this time beyond Asia Minor to the Gentile cities of Macedonia. Through the efforts of Paul and the other Apostles, the Gospel reaches to the ends of the earth and all nations are brought, through faith, to share in Christ’s love, joy and peace.

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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