Fifth Sunday of Easter (A); May 14, 20107
Acts 6:1-7 Ps 33 1 Pt 2:4-9 Jn 14:1-12
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison & SJB
When I started my teaching career some 30 years ago, the first year was promising, gave me the reassurance that this is where God wanted me to be, but was fraught with a few conflicts between myself and some students, parents, and administrators. I weathered these few problems and resolved over the summer that the next school year would be without conflict. Well, guess what: that year had its problems and so on to this day. While suffering from periodic bouts of vincible ignorance, I do learn from my experience and I came to appreciate that conflict is inevitable when people interact with one another. So, there are conflicts in life; the question is how do we confront them.
The Reading from the Acts of the Apostles offer us a good model to follow as we see that tension occurs within the Church—then and now. What’s instructive for us is how the early Church faced its problems.
In the immediate aftermath of Pentecost, which is the birthday of the Church, Christian communities were largely Jewish. Our ancestors would go to the synagogue and afterwards celebrate Eucharist in a home church. They saw themselves as faithful Jews in whom Jesus was the fulfillment of the Messianic hope. So, they belonged to one single ethnicity and one single culture. But, that began to change when Paul was anointed by Jesus to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul knew that Jesus was the universal Savior of the whole world—that salvation was meant for all peoples, not just Jewish Christians. His missionary work opened the fledging Church to the Greek cultural atmosphere. Soon, Gentiles came flooding into the Church, which lost its homogeneity; consequently, the first difficulties arose. At that time, discontent was spreading, there was grumbling, rumors of favoritism, and feelings of unequal treatment abounded. Does this sound familiar? The community’s help to those in need—widows, orphans, and the poor in general—seemed to have favored Jewish Christians over the Hellenists.
And, so faced with this conflict, the Twelve apostles called together the disciples to discuss the matter together. Notice that the Twelve did not bury the conflict, hoping that it would go away. Problems, in fact, are not resolved by pretending that they don’t exist. Instead, what transpired must have been a very frank and open discussion between the Apostles and the other faithful disciples. What emerged from this discussion was a subdivision of responsibilities and tasks.
The Apostles make a proposal that is welcomed by all: they will dedicate themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word, while seven men, who would come to be known as deacons, would provide service to the tables of the poor. These seven men were not chosen because they were experts in a certain field, but because they were honest men who had a good reputation within the community. They were full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Their ministry of service was established through the imposition of hands by the Apostles.
This account has traditionally been seen as the origin of the order of deacons; though the origin of the diaconate is certainly more historically complex, we have in this passage a genuine view as to how the Church resolved a conflict and how it expanded its structure and its diversity to meet the needs of the growing family of faith. This outcome was essential to dealing with the problem while serving the needs of the burgeoning Church.
So, from that conflict which generated grumbling, rumors of favoritism and unequal treatment, they arrived at a solution. Conflicts within the Church, whether it be at Rome or at St. John the Baptist C.C. , Folsom Prison are resolved by facing each other, by discussing and listening, and, above all, by praying. This is the only way that the center of our Church can hold together. What tears apart a community is gossip, envy, jealousy which can never bring about concord, harmony, or peace.
By engaging in prayer, the community of disciples opened themselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit, who guided them to understanding and prudential judgment. As a parish faith community, when we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, we will resolve our problems which will bring us to harmony, unity, and respect for the various gifts and talents that we have.
Do we understand the dynamic of what happened in the Acts of the Apostles? If we do, we won’t succumb to gossiping, envy, or jealousy. May we be docile to the movement of the Holy Spirit, so that we be able to cherish one another and come together more deeply in faith and love, keeping our hearts open to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Amen.