Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 287


Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters
about this question.


I wonder if anyone has written “A Controversialist Reading of the Bible.” I haven’t the time or the talent to attempt such a project but its basic premise might be, “Every word, phrase and sentence of the Bible was written to settle a dispute.”

The book – or the first volume of the book because this may be an encyclopedic task! – could start with the Gospel according to Saint John. But it wouldn’t take long to circle around and begin at the beginning in the Book of Genesis. I suspect the Divine Author’s statements, “male and female he created them” and “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife” addressed major crises within that prehistoric community.

In any case, the Church which Jesus Christ founded has always grappled with controversy. As one pundit at the Vatican Council declared, “The only time the entire church ever agreed on anything is recorded in Gospel of Mark, ‘They all deserted him and fled.” Throughout the rest of our history, the truth has appeared only in controversy.

The Acts of the Apostles describes the first major crisis in the early church: “Should male, non-Jewish converts to the faith be circumcised?”

Had the question arose in the 21st century there would be no contest, the marketing department would have settled it instantly. “There is no way on God's green earth someone is going to join our cause if he has to be circumcised first! Tattoo? Maybe. Body piercing? Possibly. Circumcision? Forget about it! No way, Jose. Nix! Nyet! Impossible! Next question!

But it didn’t take a marketing specialist to settle the matter for the Apostles. They had the Holy Spirit.

We should not be surprised at the controversies that swirl around matters of birth and death, hospitality and membership. The distress and confusion these arguments stir send us back to prayer, study, and conversation with one another.

There was a time not long ago when church leadership strove mightily to avoid confusing the laity. Unwilling to do the hard work of lifelong study, the clergy found it was easier to suppress discussion and ignore questions. Unfortunately, their efforts, in some cases, led to charges of conspiracy and racketeering; prosecutors have invoked the RICO act against bishops!

It is better to engage in conversation, debate and controversy; and through adult catechesis, mystagogia and lectio divina to ponder the mysteries of our faith under the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit. An educated laity eager for complex responses to complex questions would be good for the whole Church. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.