18th April. Saturday of Week 2 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts 6:1-7

Selection and ordination of the church’s first deacons

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

Jesus calms a storm on the lake

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.


To serve the Church’s real needs

This gospel implies some moments in life when we forge ahead without reference to Jesus … and then find ourselves engulfed by waves that threaten to sink us. But then it shows Jesus alongside us to put us back on course again. Seeking to link today’s scriptural texts, in the gospel we see a decisive intervention of the Lord, while in the Acts we see how the apostles succeed in healing a crisis in the Christian community by compromise and common sense. The Greek-speaking early believers find that their widows were being neglected by church officers, in favour of the native Hebrew-speakers born in the Holy Land. The Twelve asked the community to nominate seven men who were both spiritual and prudent, to oversee the care of the Greek-speaking widows.

The appointing of the first deacons suggests a possible solution for a major need facing our Church today: how to ensure continuation of sacramental service to the People of God. It is clear that the apostles did not seek to end all debate on disputed issues by dogmatic decree, forbidding all further discussion! And their process of selecting the deacons — seeking consensus among the faithful about worthy candidates — has much to recommend it, over and against today’s overly-centralised methods of episcopal selection . We are expected to make good use of our intelligence and common sense when seeking solutions. The apostles did not act like curial dictators, imposing decisions from headquarters to rectify a local situation. While they made a prudent decision, still they left the discernment about its implementation to the community, or as we might say “those on the ground.” The Twelve could not neglect their duty of preaching and teaching, so they asked the Greek-speakers to select their own representatives, seven deacons, known for their prudence, who were then publicly ordained by the laying on of hands.

Of course, we cannot to rule out the possibility 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 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 widespread discontent with aspects of church leadership today, the faith can continue. There’s much encouragement in 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.

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.

A friend nearby, amid life’s storms

Jesus had sent his disciples away in their boat, to cross the Lake of Galilee, while he himself went off into the hills to pray. The gospel suggests that his communion with God in prayer did not remove him from the needs of h is friends. He became aware of the disciples struggling in their boat against a headwind, worn out with the rowing. If our own prayer is genuine, it will deepen our awareness of others. As we enter into communion with God in prayer, we are drawn up into God’s love for people. When prayer is a real opening up to God, it leaves us more open to others, especially any who are struggling and feel overwhelmed by the storms of life. In today’s gospel, Jesus gets into the boat with his struggling disciples and, with him in the boat, the wind dropped and the disciples found themselves in a much calmer space. We too must open ourselves up to the Lord’s calming and strengthening presence. We go out from our prayer strengthened to be channels of that life-giving presence of the Lord to others. [Martin Hogan]

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