Saturday in the Second Week of Easter
Acts 6:1ff. The twelve apostles enlist the help of seven deacons, to serve the growing community of faith.
John 6:16ff. Jesus comes walking on the waves of a stormy lake (the Sea of Galilee), and calms their fears.
Ministries needed to serve the Church
Today’s gospel presents two scenarios: one in which we travel without Jesus and are engulfed by waves that can destroy us; another in which Jesus is with us and we come safely to our destination. In the Acts we read how the apostles healed a major division in the ranks by compromise and common sense. The Greek-speaking Christians find their widows being neglected in the Church’s share-out of goods, in favour of the Hebrew-speakers, born in the Holy Land. The Twelve ask the community to seek out seven men, deeply spiritual and prudent, to oversee the care of the Greek-speaking widows.
Normally, we are expected to make good use of our intelligence and common sense. We notice how the apostles did not move in like dictators to rectify the situation. While they made a prudent decision, still they left its implementation to the community. They asked the Greek-speaking community to elect their own representatives, the first seven deacons, known for their piety and prudence; and these were then publicly ordained by the laying on of hands.
Yet, in exceptional cases God can step in and immediately change the situation from one of desperation to one of new life. In the gospel, after a period of panic the disciples found themselves back on the shore, their fears of drowning at sea all left behind. They had not even prayed for such a miracle but Jesus appeared walking on the water and saved their lives.
Miracles can happen, yet their very possibility induces a new kind of fear! If God can intervene wondrously in our daily lives, then we are not totally in control; we do not know exactly what God will do. Miracles are not discussed and voted on in advance; they simply happen! Belief in miracles presumes an attitude which surrenders the ultimate decision of life to God. It is a state of mind that does not demand that we be in complete control. It is willing to live a risky existence, an adventure of faith, whereby God can step in at crucial moments and shift gears for us. Ultimately, it means acknowledging that we could die any time. And one step back from death, it means an openness to radical changes.
Such changes are not always planned by the disciples. For instance, in the gospel, the winds blew up a storm unexpectedly in the middle of the night, after the disciples had rowed three or four out miles from shore. We are not speaking of changes we planned, but of God’s storm suddenly bursting upon us. Whatever healthy continuity there may be in our lives, God at times picks us up and launches us like a rocket into the future.
Continuity and planning are, of course, necessary. And when problems arise, our first recourse ought to be well thought out. In the Acts of the Apostles we are impressed by the apostles’ quiet style. Along with prudence and common sense, they have recourse to prayer. Once these have been put to good service, they publicly endorse the results, imposing hands upon the heads of the seven deacons before the entire community at prayer. Here is the origin of the order of deacons. It was all of these moments wrapped into a single process that made the early Church develop and spread. Today’s liturgical account ends with a statement that many Jewish priests embraced the faith.
First Reading: Acts 6:1-7
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Gospel: John 6:16-21
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.
When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.