The city of Antioch in Syria is the scene for the first reading. It was there that Christ’s followers came to be known as Christians. Those Christians were trying to decide whether or not Gentile converts would need to follow the kosher rules that Jews observed. The Bible says:
“It was decided that Paul, Barnabas and some others should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters about the question. They were sent on their journey by the Church.”
Now, the Apostles had originally sent Barnabas up there as the leader of that community, and Barnabas had chosen Paul to share his authority. So, if they were in charge, why hadn’t they just told the people that the Gentiles did not need to observe kosher? Again, if they were in charge, who was the “Church” that sent them on their way?
It would seem that the Church was the members of the community. It would seem that apart from their leaders the people had some clout of their own.
The question of what clout was held by the people became an issue at Vatican II. In preparation for the council Pope John commissioned Cardinal Ottaviani, the leader of the Curia, to prepare a document on the nature of our Church. The document he prepared said that with the bishops to lead us, our Church is a perfect society. The document called for the laity to be more obedient to the hierarchy.
When that document was put before the twenty-five hundred bishops for approval, they turned it down. They said it was pompous and legalistic. Pope John appointed a committee of bishops from all over to prepare a new document, and that document was approved by the council. That acceptable constitution on the Church had three opening chapters.
Chapter One stated that the Church, like Christ himself, is a mystery: part human part divine. Chapter Two stated that the Church is the people of God. Chapter Three said that the Church is made up of the Faithful, subject to the authority of the bishops.
It was that second chapter, the Church as the people of God, that sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem.