What I’m Reading Today: Acts 15
One of the things I love so much about the sacred stories of our faith contained in the Bible is that they don’t spend much time “cleaning up” some of the most important people from our tradition: they often present them exactly as they are – warts and all!
Case in point: Paul.
Today’s reading casts Paul in two VERY different lights. In the first half of the chapter, for instance, Paul is a champion of those who have been deemed the outsiders. He made a journey to Jerusalem, in fact, to advocate for those who would be excluded from fellowship because they were uncircumcised. That would make you think Paul had a very open mind, right?
Just a few verses later we are told Paul got a great idea. He wanted to revisit some of their earlier stops he had made and see how things were going in the communities of believers. Barnabas said, “Great idea. Let me just grab John Mark and we’ll hit the road.”
Guess how Paul responded. He said, “Absolutely not!”
Here the interesting contradiction. As someone who had been raised Jewish, Paul was able to overcome his fear and judgment of the uncircumcised to argue for their inclusion, and yet he was totally unable to overcome his earlier judgment of John Mark.
Why is that? Why can someone be an advocate for inclusion in one circumstance, and an opponent for inclusion in another?
Here’s my theory that I have seen played out many times before. In the first scenario, Paul was advocating for a group of individuals. While that group certainly had names and faces attached to it, the argument for inclusion was largely theoretically. In the second instance, however, the matter of whether or not to include John Mark wasn’t theoretical at all; it was concrete.
I have been in so many situations where individuals (including myself!) have advocated in the realm of public policy for a group like – say – the homeless. Fast forward a couple weeks when a homeless person actually showed up in church. The homeless person might smell and act strangely.
Guess what happens?
The advocate for the homeless suddenly starts mistreating the real live homeless person in their midst. I have that happen time after time with “issues” ranging from the homeless, to those with mental illnesses, to the poor. As Paul showed us in today’s reading, it’s so much easier to be inclusive in the abstract than it is in practice.
Today I would encourage you to search out your own heart and daily life and see if there are areas in which you have been inclusive in the abstract and exclusive in your practice.
Til next time…