11 May 2020

Thank you to Br. Richard Green for sharing this reflection with us. Brother Richard is a Carmelite friar, currently living in the CISA community, in Rome.

The first reading from last Sunday told us about a time when there were problems in the early church, and about how those problems were resolved. Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was a complicated place, and there were several groups of people there. In the Gospels, we hear a lot about the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadduccees, but it was even more complex than this. There was one group of Jewish people who spoke Aramaic, and read the Bible in Hebrew. They thought that they were being more faithful to the traditions of their ancestors than the Hellenists, who used Greek, which was the language most widely used in the region. 

About this time, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews: in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked. So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food; you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.’ The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith. (Acts 6.1-7)

There are two things which become very clear reading this passage. Firstly, that the Apostles (the Twelve) were upset by the division in the community into two groups who viewed each other with suspicion. They obviously felt that it was important to show that everyone in the community was important to them; it is clear from everything on the New Testament that they thought this was an essential part of Jesus's teaching. 
The second thing is the importance of charity within the Christian community. Helping the poor was an essential part of the Christian way of life. When it became clear that the apostles weren't able to make sure themselves that all the poor widows had food, they appointed a group of people to take care of the job for them, and make sure that it was done. We don't hear much about those chosen, apart from Stephen who was the first Christian martyr, but we do know that the very early Christian community continued to think that their work was vital.
Years later, when Peter James and John met Paul, they listened to his account of the work he was doing in spreading the Gospel, and according to Paul's account (Gal 2.1-10), there was only one thing they asked Paul to do-- to make sure that he was taking care of the poor. When Paul tells this story, it sounds as if he was almost offended at the suggestion that he might not do this as a matter of course: "this was actually what I was eager to do".