Readings : Acts 6:1-7
1 Peter 2:4-9
“Lord, let your mercy be on us,/ as we place our trust in you.” The refrain for this Sunday’s responsorial psalm (Ps 33) is the perfect prayer for the church in this Easter season and for the situations faced by the early Christian communities in today’s readings. In each case, the churches have to struggle with problems without Christ’s physical presence to guide them. They must trust in the example of Jesus and the presence of the Risen One and the Holy Spirit in their midst.
In the first reading from Acts, the growth of the early Jerusalem community causes divisions between the native Jewish Christians “who spoke Hebrew” and the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians who had immigrated to Jerusalem. The widows of the Greek-speaking community were being neglected in the daily distribution of food, but “The Twelve” solve the problem in a wise way which does not distract them from prayer and proclaiming the word. They propose that the Greek-speaking community choose seven of their number who are “deeply spiritual and prudent” and give them the task of “serving” (diakonein) at the tables. This suggestion seems good to the members of the community; they select seven men whom the apostles pray over and impose hands upon. Such a sensible solution to this potentially divisive issue leads to continued growth in the Jerusalem community. We are told, “The word of God continued to spread, while at the same time the number of the disciples in Jerusalem enormously increased.”
This text has been traditionally associated with the beginning of the order of deacons in the early church. Although in this section of Acts the role of the seven seems to be limited to service (diakonia) at tables, in subsequent chapters two of the men set aside here, Stephen and Philip, take active roles in proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 7-9). In fact, Stephen will die as a martyr for his courageous proclamation of the Gospel before the Sanhedrin.
The reading from 1 Peter is part of an exhortation addressed to a Gentile Christian community that is living “as aliens and sojourners” in a hostile pagan environment. Peter uses a series of quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures to inspire these recent converts with their great dignity because of Jesus’ victory over sin and death in his resurrection. He builds his argument around the image of the risen Jesus as “a living stone.” Jesus is the cornerstone of a new community in fulfillment of the passage in Isaiah 28:16: “See, I am laying a cornerstone in Zion,/ an approved stone, and precious./ Whoever puts faith in it shall not be shaken.” For those without faith, Jesus is “a stone which the builders rejected” (Ps 118:22-23) and “an obstacle and stumbling block” (Isa 8:14). If Jesus is the cornerstone, members of the Christian community are the new temple, or as Peter says, “living stones, built as an edifice of spirit, into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Peter concludes his exhortation by reminding his readers of their call to holiness in words taken from Exod 19:6:
You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works” of the one who called you from darkness into his marvelous light.
The Gospel reading is from Jesus’ farewell discourse in John. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his return to the Father and their need to continue his work of revealing the Father’s love. Although they are understandably “troubled” by the prospect of Jesus’ departure, he gives them several reasons to have faith in God and him. First, he is going to prepare a dwelling place for them in his Father’s house where they will share fully in God’s love. Second, when Thomas complains that the disciples “do not know where” Jesus is going or “the way” to the Father’s house, Jesus assures him with the words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” The way to the Father and the fullness of truth and life is through Jesus who is about to lay down his life in love for his flock.
Finally, when Philip asks Jesus, “show us the Father,” Jesus tells him “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus concludes by inviting the disciples to have faith that he and the Father are one and if he returns to the Father, they will be empowered to do his work. “I solemnly assure you, the one who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these. Why? Because I go to the Father.
Jesus’ death and resurrection unleash into the world the power of God’s own love working within the believing community.