After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed the apostles and elders: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:7-9)
Luke spent a long time preparing this chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles. From chapter 10 on, Peter, Barnabas, Paul and others have been keeping company with pagans and announcing the Good News to them. The reader has learnt in many different ways that this behavior, so disconcerting to the other Jews, is in fact nothing but pure obedience to God. God is the one who is acting; God has set these men on the road and has awakened faith in non-Jews, to extend to the entire universe the salvation which is in Jesus Christ. Questions could arise, notably for the Jews: how does that fit together with the history of our people, with our “religion”? But in the end, all these objections, however legitimate they may seem, had little weight before Peter’s single question: “Who was I to keep God from acting?”
When the Church gathered in Jerusalem, in what has sometimes been called the first council, it was not in order to decide what God had the right to do. That is not what the Church is asked to do. Its role is rather to discern how God is acting and to concur in this. What is revealed in these key chapters of Acts is that God wants to enter into a relationship with all human beings. Salvation must reach the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The reader discovers that in Christ there exists a potential for universality, one that can surprise the disciples themselves. Do we know in advance all that Christ is capable of taking on? Do we know in advance what it means for the Gospel to be preached to every creature? The answer of Acts is clearly "no". The disciples were led to take steps (like Peter’s visit to Cornelius in chapter 10), the import and meaning of which they only realized much later. That is the way it is in the life of the Church: God leads, opens up new ways, holds together what we at first may have thought was incompatible, and it is only later that an awareness of what took place is given and perhaps expressed. That second stage is nonetheless important. It signifies the reflective acceptance of God’s plan. That is the meaning of the formula that seems unusual to us: “The Holy Spirit and we have decided…” (Acts 15:28).
Have I ever had experiences that opened me to God before I could explain to myself the meaning of what I had experienced?
What does it change to believe that God is directing the life of the Church? What does this require on the part of God’s co-workers?