Sunday's first reading (Acts 2: 42-47) is one
of those little summaries of early Christian life that frequently pop up in
the first five chapters of Acts. We're grateful for the picture of
dedication to the teaching and life of Jesus which they convey. But, we're
also jealous that these first followers of Jesus are able to accomplish
something which we later followers find almost impossible to achieve: real
Luke isn't describing the actions of priests
or nuns in these summaries. He's simply talking about ordinary, dedicated
individuals who take their faith seriously enough to actually change how
they live their everyday lives.
Who of us would hold "all things in
common...sell [our] property and possessions and divide [the proceeds among]
all according to each one's need?"
Was it real?
That's why we're relieved to discover that
most scholars don't believe those summaries are accurate descriptions of
first-century Christian living. (The scholars encourage us to turn to the
last half of I Corinthians 11 to find out how disciples of that period
actually struggled to live their faith.)
The experts contend that Luke employs such
summaries of ideal Christianity for two reasons. First, he does so to
present the community for whom he writes an ideal to aim for. He isn't
informing his readers about something that happened in the past as much as
he's giving them a picture of what they could accomplish in the future.
Second, Luke needs a device to tie together the
diverse stories about the early Christian community that have been passed
down to him by the Church's preachers. His summaries help create a
consecutive narrative out of 50-year-old, disconnected stories. It's not
only an insightful way to achieve a literary necessity; it also conveys a
deep message of Christian faith.
Most of us live our lives as though they're
just a series of disconnected events. We rarely find anything to join and
make sense out of even one day's happenings, much less a lifetime filled
with them. We constantly go from one thing to another without being able to
"connect the dots."
We long to experience what the author of I
Peter (1:3-9) refers to as a "new birth to a living hope through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,....an inheritance that is
imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for [us]." Yet we
never seem to achieve such a state. We're too busy just trying to survive.
Like Thomas, we're not completely convinced
that Jesus is risen and among us. But, unlike Thomas, we're never given a
chance to put our fingers and hand into Jesus' hands and side (John 20:
Or are we?
Perhaps Luke hits on something essential to our
faith with his summaries. Each describes Christians loving one another so
much that they often sacrifice their own good for the good of others. They
transform their wealth into something that benefits the whole community.
What other action better connects the otherwise disconnected dots of our
Such moments of self-giving are the
"trials" which the I Peter author is convinced demonstrate the
"genuineness of faith;" the actions which make "awe come upon
everyone" who witnesses them.
It's no accident that John introduces his
Thomas narrative with Jesus' command to forgive one another's sins. Only
by performing such a self-giving, heroic act of faith do we surface the
risen Jesus present in our lives. These deliberate acts of love give meaning
and direction to something which could easily be without meaning or
Perhaps one day we'll discover that the
loving, connecting links of our lives are more important than the other
events they connect.