Today’s epistle reading is from Acts 15:5-34:
But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them:
“Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me:
“Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord who does all these things.’
“Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them:
The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.
Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment—it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.
So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words. And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles. However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there.
St. John Chrysostom teaches that the prescription to the Gentiles about only following very few and particular practices of the Law shows that ultimately this is all that is necessary for anyone to follow the Law. Thus, regarding St. James’ proclamation, he writes:
Moses discourses to them. Look how great is the condescension to their weakness. Where it did no harm, he set him up as teacher and indulged them with a gratification that hindered nothing, permitting Jews to listen to him in regard to these matters, while leading away the Gentiles. Look at his wisdom. He seemed to honor him and to set him up as the authority for his own people, but at the same time he led the Gentiles away from him.
Why shouldn’t they learn from him? Because of the strangeness of these things. He shows that even the Jews need observe no more than these necessary things, and if we do not write to them it is not because they are bound to observe anything more, but because they have one to tell them, and he does not say, “Do not offend them” or “Do not turn them back,” which is what Paul said to the Galatians, but: “Do not trouble them.” He shows that success in this case would bring nothing but nuisance. Thus, he made an end of the whole matter, and while he seems to preserves the Law, by adopting these rules from it he unbinds it by taking these alone.
Today’s gospel reading is from St. John 10:17-28:
“Therefore my Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from my Father.”
Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings, and many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded him and said to him, “How long do you keep us in doubt? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand.”
In today’s reading, Christ clearly teaches that he has the power to take his life and to bring it back again. This is a clear teaching that our Lord identified himself as God, because only God can do such things. St. Athanasius writes:
To be troubled was proper to the flesh, and to have power to lay down his life and take it again when he wanted was no property of people but of the Word’s power. For human beings die, not by their own power, but by necessity of nature and against their will. But the Lord, being himself immortal, but having mortal flesh, had power as God to become separate from the body and to take it again when he wanted to. Concerning this, David speaks in the psalm: “You shall not leave my soul in Hades; neither shall you suffer your holy One to see corruption.” For it was appropriate to the flesh, corruptible as it was, that it should no longer after its own nature remain mortal, but because of the Word who had put it on, it should remain incorruptible. For since he was conformed to our condition, having come in our body, so we when we receive him partake of the immortality that is from him.
The Lord Jesus Christ, through the power of his Resurrection, proves that he is the immortal and everlasting God. Let us worship his third-day Resurrection. Now to him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.