5/15/2014 10:22:00 AM GOOD NEWS FOR KIDS God doesn't make junk
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR MAY 18, FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER 'It is not right that we should neglect the Word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing... whom we may appoint to this task.' - Acts 6:2-3
You've probably seen one of my favorite posters: the old Glenmary picture of a young African-American boy standing in front of a ramshackle house, wearing Salvation Army-rejected clothes. The inscription at the bottom of the poster simply states, "God made me; God doesn't make junk!"
Sunday's three sacred authors are conveying the same message.
The unknown author of I Peter (2:4-9) couldn't be clearer. He reminds his readers, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own, so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." Jesus' followers certainly aren't junk.
John's Jesus takes this privileged status one step further (John 14:1-12). During his long Last Supper discourse, He assures His followers, "Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father." We're actually going to accomplish more than the historical Jesus accomplished! It can't get much more important than that.
In Sunday's Acts (6:1-7) passage, Luke demonstrates how Jesus' first followers put their importance into action. Although Christians usually got along quite well together, Luke uncharacteristically introduces a conflict between Greek-speaking and Aramaic-speaking widows, revolving around the daily distribution of food. Because the former don't understand the language of the food's distributers, they suspect they're being shortchanged.
The solution which the Twelve come up with is unique. Instead of solving the problem themselves, they appoint seven men to take care of the Hellenist widows' concerns. Part of the uniqueness is that every one of the chosen seven is Greek! Each has a Greek name.
Though the Church later employed this passage as biblical proof for the institution of the diaconate, Luke doesn't seem to have had that purpose in mind. He's more concerned with demonstrating the importance of being other Christs than in setting up institutional ministries.
Once the Christian community began to develop its hierarchical structures in the late second century, it also began to forget the dignity of each individual Christian. Thankfully, the bishops at Vatican II obliterated the pyramid image of the Church I learned in my grade school religion classes. But the biblically-oriented horizontal image with which they replaced it has yet to fully catch on in practice. Many of us still feel more comfortable with the vertical image of our youth. It didn't give us a lot of importance, but it also didn't give us a lot of responsibility. We simply had to unquestionably do what we were told.
Yet two recent happenings have helped restore some of our biblical dignity.
First, Pope Francis tried to surface what ordinary Catholics think about family issues, long before a synod of bishops discusses those issues. Though the process he employed to surface our opinions left a lot to be desired, an attempt was actually made to do so.
Second, when my former bishop, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, was challenged over his recent living arrangements, he characteristically left the final decision on that topic to committees representing all levels of the faithful of his archdiocese - and he abided by their decision.
We've obviously got a long way to go before we return to the concept early Christians had of themselves, but we're at least making some small attempts. Perhaps our main task now is simply to reinforce our own self-images with the beliefs of our ancestors in the faith.
If we don't regard ourselves as being important, it's easy to see why others might think we're junk.