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4/21/2005
WORD OF FAITH
Giving all dignity
REV. ROGER KARBAN


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 them.

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.

Living stones

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 Jesus Christ."

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 them.

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 marvelous light."

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 around us.

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" Jerusa-lem.)

Solution

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.

(4/21/05)












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