Galatians 2: 11 – 14
11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’
The first Christians did not have our advantages. The New Testament had not been written, any of it, and there were few established traditions or Church beliefs to learn from because they were the first members of the Church. They knew about breaking bread together and doing it in remembrance of Jesus. They knew about baptism and the Holy Spirit was busy making himself felt, but there was no Creed to help them think about his relationship with the Father and the Son. It was all new uncharted territory. Worse there were two basic factions. The Jewish Christians who had a rich residue of tradition to draw upon including circumcision as the defining mark of a male Jew and strict rules about not sitting at the same table as non-Jews to eat a meal. And the non-Jewish Christins (or gentiles) who had none of this heritage. They all knew in theory that all you needed to be a Christian was to turn to Christ and nurture that relationship, but surely, the Jewish Christians thought, you could be even more holy by still keeping the Jewish law as well?
That was what the argument was about. Paul writes about Peter, “the rock”, Cephas, ‘when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned’. Paul was the apostle to the gentiles and Peter to the Jews. They both believed passionately in what they practised, they both were devout and passionate followers of Jesus Christ, and they both disagreed vehemently. It was probably a scandal in the early Church. It is detailed in two books of the bible, Acts as well as Galatians, The views of Peter and Paul were extreme and opposite You can almost hear Paul spitting the words out, especially if you read on from today’s passage.
You might think this is just history and it doesn’t matter very much. But as a result of this decision and others like it, we do not have to be circumcised and we do not have separate degrees of Christians, ordinary Christians like you and me, and the super holy by birth, former Jews who then we can’t ask to share our pizza because they won’t eat at the same table as us ordinary mortals. We are all one in Jesus Christ. Thank God (literally) that the argument was resolved. I believe it must have been through the action of the Holy Spirit who brings peace and reconciliation in the most surprising circumstances.
I also believe that society might be polarising today about the issue of how to relate to each other safely after lockdown. There are those who seem to have thrown caution to the wind and almost bump past you in the street, no distancing at all,and seemingly ready to blow in your face. And there are those who are very frightened to come past their front door. Of course there is some hyperbole in this and I am caricaturing somewhat, but most of us would probably naturally gravitate towards one view or the other even if we don’t like the extreme. There are not many shades of grey in views about social distancing. I am not advocating one view over the other, although like each one of you, I do have my own views, but what is important, as in the early Church is to air the discussion, because that is how resolution occurs., And as in the early Church, we do have the immense advantage that, if we are open to the Holy Spirit we can allow him to influence our views, our actions and our decisions so they are creative, uniting and lead to God being glorified.
Help me, O God, to put off all pretences and to find my true self.
Help me, O God, to discard all false pictures of you, whatever the cost to my comfort.
Help me, O God, to let go of all my problems and fix my mind on you.
Help me, O God, to see all my own sins, never to judge my neighbour, and may the glory be all yours.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.
Your will, not mine, be done.
Here is a picture by Marc Chagall about another potential disagreement and its catastrophic decision. Enjoy the chaos in the painting! It is entitled, ‘Adam and Eve’ and painted in 1912.
If you would like to join us for Evening Prayer today (Monday) it is at 5.00pm
The link is:
Topic: Zoom Evening Prayer on Monday
Time: Jul 20, 2020 05:00 PM London
Time: Jul 20, 2020 05:00 PM London
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 856 0673 5476
The times for Evening Prayer on Zoom for the rest of the week are as follows:
Wednesday 5.00pm (and please note Communion in church at 9.30am even though it is not on the pew sheet)
Sunday worship: Parish Communion at 9am in church, Zoom Worship at 10.30am and Sunday Evening Prayer is at 6pm on Zoom
We hold Morning Prayer and some Evening Prayer in church nearly every day (see the pew leaflet for details). You are welcome to join us.