2nd Week of Easter, Saturday, April 17
Acts 6:1-7 / John 6:16-21
The disciples run into trouble; The Lord was with them in their trouble.
There's a famous poem called "Footprints." It's about a person, in a dream, walking along a beach with the Lord. Suddenly, across the sky, scenes appear from the person's life. For each scene, two sets of footprints appear in the sand: one belonging to the Lord, the other to the person.What confuses the person is that during the most trying times in life only one set of footprints appears. When the person asks the Lord why he left during these most trying times, the Lord says, "I would never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."
How firmly do we believe that God is with us always, especially during times of trial and suffering? "The LORD, your God, carried you, as a man carries his child, all along your journey." Deuteronomy 1:31
The early church has often been held as a model for us to emulate. They were united in heart and mind and they shared their belongings with each other and no one was in need. Furthermore, the presence of the apostles affirmed and strengthened the faith of the early church and they bore powerful witness to the Risen Christ and to the Good News. Yet, in spite of this, all was not that perfect or rosy, for danger lurks even in safe places, and small issues can explode into nasty confrontations. The 1st reading recorded the first crisis in the early church. There was tension between the Hebrews and Hellenists, and it was like a tension between two ethnic groups or castes or colours.
Wherever human beings live together there will be difficulties. That should not astonish us. That is unimportant. What is important is how we solve the difficulties. Here we have a master peace. In the young Church there were two distinct groups: converts from Palestine and converts of Jews and proselytes from other countries. The second group was much more broad-minded and better educated and more wealthy. The first were called Hebrews, the second Hellenists, from the language they were more familiar with. The Hebrews were more chauvinistic. They looked down on the Hellenists. They had no difficulty to accept money from the Hellenists but they favoured their own poor and widows. The Hellenists thought they were at a disadvantage. Charity, they thought, gave a greater share to the poor and widows of the Hebrews. The apostles took the complaints seriously. They did not Ignore them. Their consideration settled two points that are important even today. The first - a point of policy: an Apostle's work is the gospel, not social work! The second, a point of procedure: Make a permanent arrangement. They created the institution of deacons. And here comes the masterstroke: They chose all Hellenists - as we can see from their names, they are all Greek names; the very people who had complained against them. The Hellenists saw to it that there would be no complaint anymore.
The apostles were looking for disciples to serve the material needs of the people. They were supposed to be servants filled with the Spirit of wisdom, who would see the needs of their brethren, just and fair in distributing the food and help needed. It takes sensitivity to feel who are the needy and what they need. The apostles set Stephen and companions aside for this task. This reading says also that the first duty of the Church is the proclamation of the Good News. And the Good News says, “Christ is always staying with his Church in times of trials and the tempest of all times.”
The twelve apostles have a clear perspective on their mission: “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God to serve at tables.”
Preaching the word of God and serving at table are both important and equally necessary, but one should not forget the sequence: service proceeds from the word of God. It is not rare to find well-meaning Christians immersed in works of charity with not much time left for prayer and reflection on the word of God. They often find consolation in the saying, “work is worship.” Work is worship, indeed. But when one’s work displaces the Word and takes center stage, one must wonder if the former loses its soul and becomes less an act of worship than one of mere social service. Today is an opportune time to reflect on how well the word of God and works of charity are synchronized in our lives. The twelve apostles have a clear perspective on their mission: “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God to serve at tables.”
Lord God, in our day, we need men and women filled with the Spirit of love and service who are attentive to the needs of people. Let them listen, even to the unspoken cries of people too timid to voice out their poverty and distress and help without condescension their brothers and sisters of Christ, for he is our Lord forever. Amen