April 21st. Saturday of 2nd Week of Easter
Acts 6:1ff. The twelve apostles enlist the help of seven deacons.
John 6:16ff. Jesus comes walking on the sea, and calms their fears.
Consulting about suitable Ministries
This gospel suggests contrasting moments in our lives: one in which we forge ahead with our plans without reference to Jesus – and find ourselves engulfed by hostile waves ready to sink us; and another in which Jesus is suddenly with us and we are back on course again. Putting today’s two scriptural passages together, in the gospel we see a sudden, miraculous change; while in the Acts we see how the apostles healed a major division in the Christian community by a wise compromise and common sense. The Greek-speaking community of believers find that their widows were being neglected by church functionaries, in favour of those native born in the Holy Land, who spoke Hebrew. The Twelve asked the community to seek out seven men who were both spiritual and prudent, to oversee the care of the Greek-speaking widows.
This procedure in the early Church suggests much that is relevant for today’s tensions in our Church. It is clear that the apostles did not seek to resolve issues by dogmatic decree, nor by closing issues off from discussion! And their process of selecting the deacons – by finding the consensus among the faithful as to who would make worthy candidates – has much to recommend it, over and against today’s very centralised selection methods.
Normally, we are expected to make good use of our intelligence and common sense when seeking solutions. The apostles did not act like petty dictators, moving in with decisions from headquarters to rectify the situation. While they made a prudent decision, still they left the practical discernment about its implementation of it to the community. The Twelve felt that they should not neglect their duty of preaching and teaching, so they asked the Greek-speaking community to select their own representatives, seven deacons, known for their piety and prudence, who were then publicly ordained by the laying on of hands.
Yet, we ought not to rule out the possibility even of miraculous intervention on God’s part, if necessary reforms in the Church seem to be blocked by obstinacy or lack of insight among the magisterial office-holders. God can, and at times does step in and immediately change the situation from one of desperation to one of new life. In the gospel the disciples immediately found themselves safely on the shore; their fears of drowning at sea quickly wiped away.
Despite today’s confusions and widespread discontent with aspects of church leadership today, the faith can continue. There’s much encouragement to be had from this episode of Jesus walking on the water. We do not know exactly what God will do, to heal the Church of our present widespread malaise. Miracles are not predictable, still less discussed and voted on; they simply happen! Belief in miracles presumes an attitude which surrenders both our individual and social/ecclesial wellbeing to God. It is a state of mind that does not demand total clarity and control. It is willing to live a risky existence, that adventure of faith whereby God can step in at crucial moments and shift gears for us.
But continuity is needed too. And when problems arise, our first recourse ought to be humanly planned and discussed with others. As a priority, we determine to remain within our faith community even if we have to sometimes raise our voice in loyal protest. We do not stomp out because of frustration, or respond so angrily that a shouting match breaks out! In the Acts we are impressed by the quiet, non-dominant style of the Twelve. Along with prudence and common sense, they have recourse to prayer and they consult the faithful before taking decisions that affect the whole community. That is how authority was exercised in the early Church. Would that the same moderate style could be seen replicated in today’s Church.
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.