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Joe Hoover, S.J.May 10, 2023
Photo by Viacheslav Peretiatko, courtesy of iStock.

A Reflection for Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

You can find today’s readings here.

“Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)

When I was a resident advisor at Marquette in the early 1990s, we often had professional development workshops centered around the concepts of “multiculturalism” and “diversity” and “inclusion.” It was kind of the new thing. At one session, an RA stood up and challenged the notion that America is a “melting pot.” The concept of a melting pot, he said, prefers that all of the various races, languages and cultures new immigrants bring to this country be conformed into one vast, overarching culture. New American citizens—and all citizens—are encouraged to lose our identities and become one Big Identity.

A far better image, this student said (a little smugly, but we are all smug when we are forward-thinking college kids, no?), is that of a “tossed salad.”

In a tossed salad, all the various parts of the salad keep their particular nature—a cucumber doesn’t melt into a crouton into a radish—but they still reside together in one bowl. In America, we are unique individuals existing side by side in one country.

Do we believe God is the author of our salvation, or is obeying every command of God’s law the way to his good graces? Who is in charge of my redemption: Christ, or me?

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, members of the early church are debating whether Gentiles who want to become Christian need to subsequently conform to the one of the most personal signs of the Mosaic law: namely, do they need to be circumcised, as well as practice all other aspects of the law? Do they have to undergo the same profound physical alteration that we Jews have undergone, observe every last command of Moses we observe, in order to receive salvation in Christ? Or can they exist side by side with us uncircumcised and not beholden to every part of the law?

Is this new church a melting pot, or a tossed salad?

The answer we would give today is a billion kinds of obvious—in the Catholic church alone there are hundreds of languages and cultures living side by side that make up the body of Christ. But in the early days, the thinking of some Christians was more rigid. You had to be just like me to receive the rewards I have received. If I had to go through all of this pain and hardship and discipline, so should you.

It is such a basic impulse, and a small-hearted one: You are trying to get away with something I couldn’t get away with and I won’t let you.

Earlier in the Gospels, Christ himself gave a wholesale rejection of this kind of theology. When some of the Pharisees objected to his calling the tax collector Matthew as one of his disciples, Christ told them to go learn the meaning of the words: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

There are fundamentals every Christian needs to believe to call ourselves Christian: Christ is God incarnate; the dead Christ is resurrected; love is the deepest practice of our faith. But do we need to practice every last command of our faith in order to be saved? In order to receive the mercy of Christ?

The reading ends with this as an open question. So often our own lives do too. Do we believe God is the author of our salvation, or is obeying every command of God’s law the way to his good graces? Who is in charge of my redemption: Christ, or me?

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