Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 31-32 and Acts 15

Sirach 31 – On riches: “The sleeplessness brought by wealth makes a man lose weight, the worry it causes drives away sleep” (31:1).

“Remember how bad it is to have a greedy eye; is anything in creation greedier than the eye? That is why it waters on every occasion” (31:13).

On wine: “Wine is life for man if drunk in moderation. What is life worth without wine? It was created to make men happy. Drunk at the right time and in the right amount, wine makes for a glad heart and a cheerful mind” (31:27).

Sirach 32 – On banquets: “Speak, old men, it is proper that you should: but know what you are talking about, and do not interrupt the music (32:4).

Young men should speak only if they have to and no more than twice.

“The sinner waves reproof aside, he finds excuses to do what he wants. A sensible man never scorns a suggestion; a proud and godless man will be immune to fear” (31:27-28).

“Do not venture on a rough road, for fear of stumbling over the stones. Do not be over confident on an even road, and beware of your own children” (32:20-21).

Acts 15The controversy over circumcision: Ray Brown was an interesting source for helping me to understand this chapter of Acts. He notes that the circumcision issue was not settled in Acts 11 by Peter’s vision and its apparent lesson that eating and creating community with the uncircumcised was not something offensive to God; they were now facing whole churches made up of Gentiles, not just reconciling association with one or two of them (Brown 305).

In these congregation of Gentiles, the only real tie to Judaism was a “veneration [of] the Jewish Scriptures” and this was a problem for some. Brown points out that maybe the conservatives were correct on this issue – realizing that abandoning all requirements of the Law would mean that Christianity would grow without any real connection to the Jewish community. Paul thought perhaps it was just something temporary, but it turned out to be permanent. The “branch” Paul thought he was “grafting onto” the tree God had started would eventually BECOME the tree.

I find the observations of Brown interesting because there is part of me that believes that the huge divide that exists between Jews and Christians was never meant to be – and maybe even the divide between Christians and Muslims. I have always felt a deep feeling that we are all part of one salvation narrative and that somehow God will one day pull us together some day.

Anyway, returning to Acts, Paul and Barnabas argue with pro-circumcision men who have come from Judea and finally Paul and Barnabas decide to go up to Jerusalem with a few others (Galatians mentions Titus, a former pagan, as one of those who accompanied them) to discuss the issue with the apostles and elders there.

Brown points out that we can compare the account of this visit in Acts with Paul’s more personal account in his Epistle to the Galatians. The following are some comparisons that Brown makes:
·          Acts depicts the meeting as less acrimonious than Paul does in Galatians.
·          Acts seems to accept that the “pillars” of the church would decide the issue; Paul calls them the “so-called pillars”
·          In Galatians, Paul notes that he first laid out his arguments privately – this was smart
·          James is seen as the most important voice in Acts and in Galatians he is seen as the most unpredictable
·          Both Paul’s and Peter’s testimony is “experiential” while James bases his reasoning on Scripture
·          Interesting that no one makes any reference to anything Jesus might have had to say on the issue
·          In the end “koinonia” is maintained

Verses 5-7 tells it like this: certain “members of the Pharisees’ party who had become believers” (15:5) insisted that pagans should be circumcised and keep the whole Law. After the apostles and elders discussed it, Peter stands up and speaks.

Peter says God chose him to learn the Good News of Christ; and he showed his approval of the pagans by giving them the Holy Spirit not making any distinction between them and the original followers of Christ, the Jewish converts. It would make God angry to impose Mosaic Law on them at this point. They are saved “through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (15:11).

James, the “brother” of Jesus, claims to have the last word, and he says they shall not make things more difficult for the pagans, and that all they need to observe is abstention from foods polluted by idols (sacrifices made to idols), fornication [marriage with close relatives], and the meat of strangled animals or meat with blood in it. They send Paul and Barnabas back with Barsabbas and Silas, and they send a letter. They say they “unanimously” elected delegates to send with Paul and Barnabas and outline the decision.

The community at Antioch is pleased with the decision. The two who came with them return, but Paul and Barnabas stay for a while.

Later they go and visit all the towns where they preached the gospel earlier. Barnabas wants to take John Mark, but Paul objects, angry about his having left them when they were in Pamphylia. Barnabas gets pissed off and goes off with Mark to Cyprus. Paul goes with Silas on his mission.

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