One of my former high school students recently told me about a compliment she received from her college-aged daughter. "You've always given me a sense of my self-worth and dignity," she said. "Because of the way you've treated me, I've got a lot of self-confidence."
I can't think of anything better a child can tell a parent -- or a Christian can tell the Church. When one listens carefully to the message of the Christian Scriptures, one finds self-worth, dignity and confidence running throughout these early reflections on the Christian experience.
How could anyone develop an inferiority complex after hearing Jesus' Gospel promise, "Who ever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these..."? Whatever Jesus does, His disciples can do better (Jn 14: 1-12)!
No wonder Luke mentions (Acts 6: 1-7), "The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly...." People would be crazy not to join a movement which consistently made them feel good about themselves.
But no Christian author ever makes his readers feel as terrific as the unknown author of I Peter (2: 4-9). Writing long before the Church became stratified into clergy and laity, he reminds his community, "You are a 'chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God's own, so that you may announce the praises' of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."
Each of these four titles comes from the Hebrew Scriptures. Just as they once helped the ancient Israelites understand their unique dignity before God and among people, so they now help Jesus' followers understand their special role in God's salvation history. Simply put, Christians aren't "junk."
Yet, before we think such uplifting sentiments are just some pious words supplied by an early Christian public relations agency, I recommend we look carefully at the rest of the Acts reading.
Luke is concerned not just with describing a problem in the early Jerusalem community, but also in making certain we understand how it was solved.
Because of the language barrier, cultural divisions or inbred suspicions (or all of the above), Greek-speaking Christian widows think they're being shortchanged in the "daily distribution" of food. The Twelve first acknowledge that a problem exists, then call together "the community of the disciples." (Remember, in Scripture a disciple is anyone who follows Jesus.)
It's that whole community, not just the Twelve, who picks the seven individuals who will be in charge of food distribution. And though it's clear from the text that Greek-speaking people are a minority in the Jerusalem church, the whole community selects seven men who have Greek, not Hebrew names: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas.
Luke's message is clear: those in the Christian community who have a problem are precisely the ones who are expected to solve that problem. Each individual's worth and dignity is demonstrated on a practical level by having each individual have a say in his/her destiny.
From his experience in the Roman Empire, Luke knows it would be easier and much more efficient to let a small handful of people make decisions for the whole Church. (And more probably some in his community were already pushing in that direction.) But, for him, such a system could never convey the self-worth which the historical Jesus instilled in all His followers.
My former student's daughter has evolved into the self-confident person she is not because she was part of an efficient, smooth-running family, but because her parents decided to go down the inefficient, tension-filled road of love with her.