[This post is an updated version of a post from Vincentian Mindwalk.]
The Courage To Accept a New Way of Thinking
In recent years I realized that I look at the Acts of the Apostles from a Christian mindset. What is it like to look at the facts from the perspective of a Jewish believer, or even a Gentile who believed in many deities? From this perspective, I see how much courage it took to accept a new way of thinking.
First, I ask what an ordinary Jewish man or woman might be thinking. How would that complicate following Jesus?
If I were a Jewish person 2000 years ago…
Most likely my life would have been hard.
Life was grinding, with a triple tax burden: to Rome, to Herod the Great, and to the temple (to which, traditionally, they owed 10 percent of the harvest).
The center of my life would be the belief in being blessed as God’s chosen people.
Most likely I had clear and strongly held core beliefs. I would be proud that I had a set of directions directly from God embodied in 10 commandments
My major religious celebrations from my earliest days would be centered around the temple and ritual meal of the feast of Passover, the equivalent of Independence Day.
I would be longing for a Messiah, certainly, but one clearly like Moses and probably with overtones of political liberation from oppression by foreign powers.
I would believe that non-Jews were unclean atheists and morally deficient, certainly not to be associated with.
Along comes Jesus and his followers
Jesus and his followers shook all that up. They presented radically new ways of thinking for both Jewish persons and non-Jewish persons.
For a Jewish person Jesus saying love your God and your neighbor as yourself” might make sense. But then Jesus said “this is my commandment,” “Wash one another’s feet!” Wasn’t that something servants did?
“We have always done it this way!” Now this Jesus was telling them to forget the old way and celebrate a new Passover in memory of him. Think about that one. It was like a pastor telling Christians that Christmas is not about the birth of Jesus but about celebrating the memory of the pastor!
On the other hand, pious Gentiles (they had many deities they believed in) were challenged by the Jewish beliefs of the early followers of Jesus. So much of Jesus teaching seemed rooted in a Jewish way of looking at things. They were hearing that Jewish strict dietary rules and other things were essential.
The clash of these mindsets presents a formula for polarization.
How do I react today when someone challenges my deeply-held beliefs?
The big picture of the Acts of the Apostles is this clash of mindsets. We tend to think all was resolved quickly. Far from it! It took the better part of two centuries of struggle to work it out.
I suggest it will be worthwhile looking at the Acts of the Apostles as early Jews and Gentiles struggled with mindsets other than their own. What were the essential values in each mindset?
In many ways, the stories in Acts offer keys to understanding the last century of our own history of a struggle for church renewal from Vatican II to Pope Francis. Pope John XXIII set in motion a process not unlike what we see in the Acts of the Apostles. What are the traditional values that need to be held on to and what needs to be rethought?
Contemporary clash of mindsets
- What is my predominant mindset toward Church renewal?
- What values do I need to appreciate more?