The rapid growth of early Christianity forces
historians to ask how an almost insignificant Jewish reform movement in the
middle of the first Christian century could have, within 60 years, evolved
into a widely accepted, Gentile-based religion.
We find one of the reasons in Sunday's three
readings. Those who imitated Jesus' death and resurrection discovered
within themselves a value and worth that nothing else previously offered
What other group was ever promised, "The
person who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than
these"? Jesus' disciples quickly realized that the more they valued
Jesus, the more they uncovered the value hidden deep in themselves.
The author of the I Peter baptismal homily
perfectly sums up this Christian situation in the beginning of the second
reading (I Peter 2: 4-9). "Come to the Lord," he writes, "a
living stone, rejected by men but approved nonetheless, and precious in God's
eyes. You, too, are living stones, built as an edifice of spirit, into a
holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through
In the author's world, certain people were
born with dignity; others were not. No one "studied" to be a
priest or was "elected" king or queen. If you didn't have those
prerogatives at birth, you could do nothing during your life to acquire
That's why it's important to listen to how
the author ends this reflection: "You are a 'chosen race, a royal
priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim
the glorious word' of the One who called you from darkness into His
The writer strings together some of the most
important titles given to the ancient Israel-ites in the Hebrew Scriptures
and applies all of them to Christians. But notice the one condition to
acquire these honors: We're to "proclaim the glorious works of the
One who called [us]."
This implies that, in order to maintain our
worth, we're to proclaim the worth that God has also implanted in those
This is precisely what we find happening in the
first reading (Acts 6: 1-7). Luke presents a situation in which a minority
- Greek-speaking widows - suspect they're being slighted in the
community distribution of food by the majority who speak Hebrew. (Remember,
we're talking about an event taking place in "Hebrew-speaking"
The Twelve first assemble the whole
"community of disciples." (A disciple is the Christian Scriptures
title for anyone who follows Jesus.) Then they tell them to pick seven
"from your own number" to handle the food distribution. Everyone
is deemed "worthy" to solve their own problems, and notice the
names of the seven they choose: "Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor,
Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas of Antioch." Every one of the food
distributors is Greek!
If someone believed they're inferior to
others, there's no better way to demonstrate their value than for those
"others" to place them in a position of authority over them. In
this case, if Greeks feel slighted, then Greeks are put in charge.
I once had a bishop in my diocese who was very
zealous for social justice. As an auxiliary bishop back in the 1970s, his
Christmas Midnight Eucharist was picketed by some African-Americans
protesting racial prejudice. They were arrested for their efforts.
The bishop not only bailed the group out of
jail, but also immediately appointed their leaders to head a new commission
in his parish to change the very conditions against which they were
protesting. He obviously got something from Sunday's readings that most
of us overlook.