Tuesday in the Second Week of Easter
Acts 4:32ff. The totally sharing spirit among those early Christians.
John 3:7ff. Only the Son of Man, who descended from heaven, can reveal heavenly things
An ideal, united community?
Today’s Scriptures present us with the question of whether and how a fair sharing of property can be achieved within the church. We see how, at least for a while, the early Christians at Jerusalem pooled all their resources, and there was no one in financial distress. Later, however, their destitution was such that Paul has to take up a collection during his travels in Greece for the sake of the Jerusalem community. Communal sharing of goods remained an ideal but was quickly abandoned as a prescribed way of life.
Another theme leaves us pulled in various ways and produces a strange tension within us. “No one has gone up … except the One who came down.” Yet, Jesus came down to lift us up! Once he was lifted up in glory, he returned to our lowliness. We are left on earth but attracted by Jesus towards heaven. Furthermore, to be lifted up implies glory and triumph. Yet, the image of Moses’ lifting up the serpent recalls the sins of the Israelites in the desert (Num 21:4-9). When they grumbled and acted like gluttons, poisonous serpents struck among them with fiery pain and frequent death. When the Israelites looked upon a bronze or copper serpent which Moses had lifted up, and looked with repentance and honest admission of their guilt, they were cured.
These two tensions may come together in an unusual way. The idealism of the early Christians draws admiration and a nostalgic desire to relive such an idyllic experience of community. How wonderful if we shared all our goods, cared for one another, were equal in wealth and poverty, and found our greatest contentment and strength in community love and God’s felt providence. Yet, doesn’t it often happen that our gifts and talents, our ideals and hopes, divide us one from another? We become too demanding. We insist that others follow our insights which happen to be different from theirs. The artist tends to be too impractical for the administrator, the talented person is dominating, the capable leader turns dictatorial, the scholar demands our consent before we have time to think out the question.
Peace comes not by suppressing the gifts of the Spirit, but by humbly realizing that no one has a corner on all the gifts. Tensions then are healthy, because they prevent us from speeding in any single direction and overlooking other turns and possibilities. Tensions remind us that gifts are given not just for personal fulfilment but rather to be shared in the joy and love of family. None of us, no matter how pleased with ourselves, can be saved unless our talents have been shared with others and balanced with the gifts possessed by others.
It is very difficult to allow our finest gifts to be transformed into something different than we ourselves anticipated; such a change happens when they are pooled with the gifts of others. Perfect manhood and womanhood are intended to be blended together and produce something different: marriage and children. Or, they are called to priesthood and religious life where community life and church apostolate can shift values around and make a person’s major talents to be subservient to other, seemingly lesser gifts.
A person with extraordinary mental gifts may be paralyzed so that the hidden gift of a quiet serenity may be imparted to others. A married couple may be unable to have their own children, so that they can bestow their love upon children without a home. An unimposing country pastor like John Paul I may be advanced to the papacy, in order to teach simplicity, directness and graciousness. Power then is subservient to humility. Community not only balances us, lest our gifts get out of hand, but it also brings extraordinary surprises into our lives. The best growth takes place within community, because there is where the Spirit dwells.
First Reading: Acts 4:32-37
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Gospel: John 3:7-15
Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus aswered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.