After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.
After they finished speaking, James replied, "My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, "After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago." Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues."
Jesus said to them: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."
A spirit of love and 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.