Daily Scripture Analysis

Daily Gospel

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Reading 1 (Acts 15:1-6)

Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,
"Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,
you cannot be saved."
Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters
about this question.
They were sent on their journey by the Church,
and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria
telling of the conversion of the Gentiles,
and brought great joy to all the brethren.
When they arrived in Jerusalem,
they were welcomed by the Church,
as well as by the Apostles and the presbyters,
and they reported what God had done with them.
But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers
stood up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them
and direct them to observe the Mosaic law."

The Apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter.

Gospel (Jn 15:1-8)

Jesus said to his disciples:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."


Written by: Fr. Anthony Dinh Minh Tien, O.P.

 

I. THEME: What are the basic doctrines of Christianity?

            The coexistence of Christianity and other cultures dates back to the apostolic age. Before his Ascension, Jesus instructed his disciples to spread his teachings to the ends of the earth (Mk 28:28, Mk16:15) but did not tell them how. Meanwhile, every nation on earth has tradition and culture which need to be respected. When Christianity is evangelized in a nation, the missionary need to do a careful research of its tradition and culture. The purpose is for that nation to welcome the Christian faith without destroying its tradition and culture.

            Today readings show us the importance of inculturation. In the first reading, the early Church must face many conflicts when shifting from Judaism to Christianity. The basic question is that what the Church must keep or discard in order for the Gentiles to join the Church. For example, do the Gentiles have to be circumcised and to keep the law of purification when they join the Church? In the Gospel, Jesus gave us the most important doctrine of Christianity which is to live the intimate relationship between the believers and Christ as the branches and the vine. Without this relationship, everything else are meaningless.

II. ANALYSIS:

1/ Reading I: Does one need to be circumcised and keep all the law to be saved?

1.1/ According to some Pharisees who were converted to Christianity: The Gentiles must be circumcised and keep all the law.

            (1) The circumcision: Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved." Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen 17). Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (Lk 2:21); Paul was also circumcised (Phi 3:5). By circumcision, the Jews know that they belong to God’s chosen people and Abraham’s descendants.

            However, the importance of the covenant is faith and love God; circumcision is the outward sign to indicate their inside faith and love. If someone is circumcised and has no faith and love for God, can that one belong to God’s people? Other nations also have their custom of circumcision. The prophet Jeremiah often emphasize the need of circumcision in heart and mind. God loves justice and love more than circumcision (Jer 4:4, 9:24-26).

            (2) The law: First of all, there is a need to differentiate between God’s and human law. God’s law can never be changed and all people must keep them. Human laws are made by people, can be changed.

            - The law is officially the Ten Commandments which God gave to the Israelites through Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exo 20:1-17). This law is never changed and all people, the Jews and the Gentiles must keep it.

            - The human laws can be written or oral tradition; for examples, the law of purification or the detailed law about keeping holy of the Sabbath, etc. The Gentiles have no obligation to keep these laws. Jesus himself often argued with the Pharisees and the scribes about these laws and corrected them, “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Mt 15:3, cf. Mk 7:3-13).

1.2/ According to Paul and Barnabas: The Gentiles have no tradition to keep the law of circumcision and purification as the Jews. Moreover, the history of salvation enters the new stage which includes the Gentiles. “Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question.”

            We don’t know what were their arguments when they argued with the Pharisees, but according to what Paul wrote in his Letters, especially the Romans and the Galatians, we can draw out some of his main arguments: First, people are saved not by being circumcised and keeping the law, but by their faith in Christ. Secondly, when Jesus came, he brought the law to its fulfillment; therefore, the faithful must keep Christ’s law which is more demanding than the old law. Lastly, people don’t need to be a Jew before they become a Christian because Christ has incarnated, died and resurrected.

            Although the conflicts of the circumcision and the law were solved by the first Council of Jerusalem, it is still a lesson for us in the present world. Everytime we face that kind of confliction, we need to sit down and to analyze what are important things we must keep and what aren’t important we can adapt or discard. To tell a Gentile or a nation to follow one culture or one tradition in practicing the Christian faith easily prevent the expansion of the Good News. A practical example near our generation is the worship of ancestors in the Oriental culture.

2/ Gospel: To live our intimate relationship with Christ is more important than anything else.

            To live the relationship between people and God is the center of Christianity; therefore, whatever leads people to God and helps this relationship to develop is more necessary. In today passage, Jesus compared the relationship between him and his disciples as follows: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” This relationship is based on three important things:

            (1) Scripture: is necessary for people to know who is God, what He desires for people, what He did, is doing and shall do for people. Scripture has power to “prune,” to expel all what are impure and evil in human beings, as Jesus said, “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.”

            (2) Sacraments: help to convey divine life and grace to human beings. The image of the branches which need the vine’s nourishment to live and to bear fruits, illustrates the necessary of sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus said to his disciples: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

            (3) Keeping commandments: Good fruits are good works that people do to God and others, such as: to believe and to love God; to keep His commandments; to do good deeds for others. When people bear good fruits, they are glorifying God.

           

III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:                     

            - In the area of faith, we need to pay attention to the relationship between people and God, expressed by practical deeds.

            - When we have conflicts about tradition, culture or values, we need to pray and to solve them together, to recognize what relates to doctrines and needs to be kept, what needs to be adapted with the present situation and what can be discarded.

            - To tell others to follow our tradition or culture shall easily lead to separation and prevent the Good News to expand to all places and people.

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