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.
My heart is ready, O God,
my heart is ready.
I will sing, I will sing your praise.
Awake my soul, awake lyre and harp,
I will awake the dawn. (R./)
I will thank you Lord among the peoples,
praise you among the nations;
for your love reaches to the heavens
and your truth to the skies.
O God, arise above the heavens;
may your glory shine on earth! (R./)
"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."
Today's readings combine high ideals with reasonable compromise and adaptation. A very demanding loyalty was required within the early church, but they could, in face of real difficulties, find workable compromises on what at first seemed insurmountable points of dispute. After vigorous debate, the Jerusalem disciples allowed that gentile converts to membership of the Christian church. Both the decision of the Jerusalem Council and the call to love without limit are at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Some people regard all compromise as tainted and asopposed to fidelity. Yet the message of the Jerusalem Council was: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and ours too, not to lay any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary." The word strictly indicates some relaxing of the rules; but it was a Spirit-inspired compromise that helped resolve one of the sharpest threats ever faced by the church. If the conservative Jewish Christians had repudiated Paul's visionand held to a narrow view of church, Christianity would have remained a small satellite of Judaism, and never blossomed into what Jesus intended; the new covenant for the whole world.
The church faced this crucial test of her nature and mission by calling an assembly of the whole church in Jerusalem, under direction of the apostles and elders. That Council followed the policy of open discussion, so that everyone bore the responsibility of the decision. It also voted for freedom wherever possible. Conservative Christians disliked the compromise reached at the Jerusalem Council. Practices of piety and devotion, styles of worship and prayer that were received from their ancestors would no longer be binding on gentile members who would soon far outnumber the Jewish Christians. The torch was being passed to a new generation. If it is a moment of growth it was also a moment of pain and separation. It makes one wonder what kind of compromises are called for in our church, today.
Friendship is one of life's great blessings. And true friendships don't just happen; people have to choose each other as friends, on the basis of a mutual attraction, some set of common interests, a shared way of looking at things. Once a friendship is well established, each can share with the other how they really feel about life. In today's gospel, Jesus calls his disciples friends, "I shall not call you servants any more.. I call you friends." Then he adds the telling phrase, "You did not choose me, no, I chose you."
It is Jesus who took the initiative to begin this friendship with his followers; he chose them as friends. He has chosen to befriend all of us. He shows his friendship by sharing deeply with us. He reveals to us what is most personal to him, his own relationship with the Father. He shows it by emptying himself on our behalf, by laying down his life for us. He has done his part, but if the friendship is to bear fruit, we need to do our part. We need to choose him as he has chosen us. We need to remain in his love and friendship. That will entail loving one another as he has loved us, befriending others as he has befriended us.