13 April 2013. 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.
Jn 6:16ff. Jesus comes walking on the waves of a stormy lake (the Sea of Galilee), and calms their fears.
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.
Ministries that really serve the Church
Today’s gospel presents two scenarios: one where we travel without Jesus and are swamped by waves that threaten our lives; another wehre Jesus is with us and we come safely to land. In the Acts we read how the apostles healed a major issue in the early Church by means of compromise and common sense. The Greek-speaking Christians rightly complained that their widows were being marginalised and neglected in the share-out of goods by the Hebrew-speakers, born in the Holy Land. The Twelve asked the community to select seven men, deeply spiritual and prudent, to oversee the care of the Greek-speaking widows.
We are expected to use our intelligence and common sense to find viable solutions, whether in the Church or in society. Notice how the apostles did act in like dictators to rectify the situation. There is no high-flown claim to “universal, absolute jurisdiction” when resolving this issue. They made a prudent decision and left its implementation to the community. They asked the Greek-speakers 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.
In exceptional and critical situations God can step in and immediately change things from desperation to new life. In the gospel, after a short bout of panic the wave-tossed disciples found themselves safely back on the shore, their fears of drowning left behind. They had not even prayed for such a miracle but Jesus appeared walking on the water and saved their lives. Miracles are not discussed and voted on in advance; they simply happen! Belief in miracles presumes an attitude of entrusting the ultimate decision of life to God. It is a state of mind that does not demand that we be in complete control of everything. God can step in at crucial moments and shift gears for us. It means acknowledging that we could die any time. And one step back from death, it means an openness to radical changes.
Yet planning remains necessary. And when problems arise, our first recourse ought to be well thought out. In the Acts we are impressed by the apostles’ conciliatory style. Alongside prudence and common sense, they have recourse to prayer. And when names are proposed, they publicly endorse the nominees, imposing hands upon the heads of the seven deacons before the entire community at prayer. This is a healthy Church in operation. It was all of these moments wrapped into a single process that made the early Church develop and spread. The apostles clearly showed themselves as servants of Christ and the Church.