Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: "The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."
So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."
A spirit of joyful enthusiasm was found to exist among non-baptized gentiles by both Peter and Paul. What Jesus had prayed for among his disciples was found among foreigners even before their baptism. Peter recognised a second Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the household of the Roman, Cornelius, just as when the Spirit came to the disciples in the upper room. So he let these people be baptized at once in the name of Jesus Christ. They were not required to be circumcised first, or to obey the Jewish dietary laws. To baptize them immediately seemed the right thing to do, even though Jesus himself had submitted to circumcision and other Mosaic prescriptions.
We gain insight, when we are faced with a fait accompli, the fact of a person with undeniable gifts of the Spirit but who rebel against our Catholic tradition. These people are sincere, gifted with common sense, yet unable to agree about magisterial doctrine. They are like the "gentiles" who received the spirit in a way that clashes with Jewish traditions and customs. To put it bluntly, they seemed outside of God's law! So in what way can they be directed by the spirit of Jesus? Or, they are partly right and we partly wrong, partly blinded and biased?
The Bible offers two lines of advice on this point: First, we must never deny the presence of the Holy Spirit wherever kindness, patience and self-sacrifice for the sake of others are manifestly present. These are gifts of the Spirit, no matter what misconceptions may also lodge in the same person. The household of Cornelius may have still clung to many pagan, superstitious ideas. Yet, Peter allowed their baptism immediately.
The second advice is in what the Council of Jerusalem laid down. The gentile converts must respect some deeply embedded sensitivities of their (Jewish-) Christian brethren, procedures all somehow related to blood: not to marry with close relatives; not to consume blood directly, or indirectly in the case of animals improperly butchered; and not to buy meat that had been offered to pagan gods. Both sides were asked to make concessions for the sake of others. Conversion does not consist only in doctrine; it is a reconciliation with a family where Jesus is the head.
We often find reference to 'joy' and 'rejoicing' in the New Testament. St Paul often writes, 'I rejoice', and he refers to 'joy' as the fruit of the Spirit. In the gospel this morning Jesus says that he wants his own joy to be in us. Joy is very much at the heart of the gospel; it is not surprising when we consider that gospel literally means 'good news.' On the night before he dies Jesus says to his disciples that he wants his joy to be in them. It seems strange that Jesus should speak of 'joy' in that rather ominous setting, with hostility and violent death facing him. The 'joy' he refers to is not what would normally be considered joy by others. It is the fruit of knowing that he is loved by God the Father, no matter what happens, and it is the fruit of sharing that love with his disciples and with all humanity. The joy he wishes for his disciples, for all of us, the sharing is his own joy, is the fruit of knowing that we are loved by Jesus to the end and the fruit of sharing that love with others, of loving one another as he has loved us. Joy is the reverse side of authentic love, the Lord's love for us and our loving for one another with the Lord's own love.