9 April 2013. Tuesday in the Second Week of Easter
Acts 4:32ff. The totally sharing spirit among those early Christians.
Jn 3:7ff. Only the Son of Man, who descended from heaven, can reveal heavenly things
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.
An ideally united community?
Today’s Scriptures raise the issue whether 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 is about movement upward and downward. “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 got badly out of order, poisonous serpents struck among them with fiery pain and early death. When the Israelites looked at a bronze or copper serpent which Moses had lifted up, with repentance and honest admission of guilt, they were cured.
The idealism of the early Christians can rouse our 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 and God’s providence. But isn’t it more often that our gifts and talents divide us one from another? We are too demanding that our personal priorities and insights which differ from others should prevail. The artist seems too impractical, the talented person too dominating, the capable leader turns dictatorial, the scholar demands our consent before we have time to think out the question.
Peace comes by humbly realizing that no one has a corner on all the gifts. Tensions can then be healthy and prevent us from speeding in any single direction and overlooking other turns and possibilities. Tensions remind us that gifts are given not just personal fulfilment but rather to be shared in the joy and love of family. None of us, no matter how gifted, can be saved unless our talents are shared with others and balanced by others’ gifts. Community balances us, lest our gifts get out of hand, and can bring extraordinary surprises into our lives. The best growth takes place within community, because there is where the Spirit dwells.