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Speaking to the Soul: Smoothing it Over

Speaking to the Soul: Smoothing it Over

Week of Proper 11, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]


Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 40, 54 (morning) //51 (evening)
1 Samuel 31:1-13
Acts 15:12-21
Mark 5:21-43

The Bible includes multiple depictions of a figure named James, one of whom speaks to us today. In today’s second reading, James is at the heart of what appears to be an early Christian consensus on including Gentiles in the Christian community. James adopts a generous spirit, telling an assembly, “I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God.” Instead of burdening or excluding Gentiles who are unwilling to adopt Jewish practices, James declares that the early Jewish Christians should accept the faithfulness of people from all over the world.

But this passage comes from the book of Acts, written in hindsight about the early Christian movement, and offering a comparatively rosy picture of early Christian unity. Other Scriptures, such as Paul’s letter to the Galatians, contain a lot more tension, with James at the center. For example, Paul describes James as belonging to the most conservatively legalistic faction of early Christianity: “the circumcision faction” (Galatians 2:12). James is accused of cowing Peter into withdrawing from table fellowship with Gentiles, which then prompted Paul to oppose Peter “to his face” (2:11).

Which vision of early Christianity should we believe? The book of Acts features prominent apostles, like James and Peter, who experience personal conversions toward the inclusion of Gentiles, and who come to agreements through peaceable councils. But the letters of Paul show us that opposition and factionalism were part and parcel of apostolic Christianity.

The Scriptures thus testify to two realities in the Christian community, both of which we can embrace: opposition and factionalism in the present, and consensus and inclusion in the long-run. May today’s Scriptures give us courage in the present and keep moving us toward a day when we remember our history but can hardly imagine what all the fighting was about.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps  program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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