Those Jerusalem Christians in early Acts, what was it that was so vibrant and attractive about them? We well know the world they lived in. Corrupt politicians. Godless materialism. Wanton disregard for human lives. Roman historians of the first century — Dio Cassius, Tacitus and especially Suetonius — recount the profligacy and decadence the culture the early Christians lived in. Often, they were fair game for the whims and cruelty of the emperors who made sport of them. Jews and Christians alike — their separate identities were not immediately distinguished — suffered continuous persecution and revilement. Throughout history, despite periodic pauses, this pattern seems to recur.

One clear reason for this is that people who believe in God are always a threat to tyrants. Our Christian faith believes in a merciful God who loves all creatures, especially human beings, the crown of creation. God has a special relationship with each of us, a personal one. We are made in the image and likeness of God. What’s more, Christians believe that, since this is so, we treat one another with the same love and respect that God shows us, that we expect God to treat us with.

So we see in Acts, how the first Christians disposed of their wealth, selling their properties and placing the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles who distributed them each according to the need of the receiver. What was it that enabled them to do this peaceably, generously and with such apparent ease? The answer is simple. Trust. Trust, first of all, in God. The belief that, through Baptism, everyone has become a member of the communion of saints, immersed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, what St. Paul would call the body of Christ. There was a trust in the connectedness of every disciple precisely because each person was intimately linked to Jesus himself.

This was not a typical way of viewing even good neighbors in Roman society. Nor is it the way our own experience in the world generally works. “Good fences make good neighbors,” as poet Robert Frost narrates in his poem “Mending Wall,” musing over a conversation with a neighbor. No one can deny that social boundaries are necessary, important for organization and safety. What is at stake, however, is not fundamentally an economic issue of who gets to own how much of what. It would be, I think, a mistake to read into the behavior of the first Christians an endorsement of socialism or common ownership of property. For one thing, the sale and disbursement of their goods was voluntary. Distribution was not based on entitlement or any assertion of rights. Rather, these were acts of generosity and aimed toward the common good.

The common good is often cited to persuade or sometimes guilt people into putting up with certain limitations on their behavior for the sake of good order and peace. We all recognize the need to observe certain house rules in various environments so as to maintain proper conditions of sanitation, security and public decorum. On a deeper level, however, the common good is far more than the rules of civility, imposed by some constabulary. It is the free and intentional ordering of our minds and hearts in such a way that we exercise prudent stewardship of what is ours so that it serves all of our fellow human beings and builds up our common humanity and our common home, the various environments in which we live.

We look out for one another with an eye toward those who are most vulnerable and in need of our presence and assistance. Practically speaking, this is what distinguishes those communities of faith, those parishes, where people feel a sense of belonging. Connections are consciously made, absent parishioners are noticed and calls are followed up on.

This is not a summons to start finger pointing, however. All of us — or maybe I should just speak for myself — have failed to be responsive at times to a genuine cry for help, an offer of friendship, a request for mercy or just a little patience. The real motivator, however, is trust in God, that it is God who loves us so much and has been so generous in the merciful love of Jesus who pours out his life for us sinners that to refuse the same kindness and generosity to others is, to be charitable, inconsistent and, to be more candid, hypocritical. We know that saying about the plank and splinter in the eye.

From this faith perspective, rooted solidly in our trust not only in God’s love for us and our neighbor, we come to recognize that God needs us to be his agents in the world through whom the mercy of God can reach the hearts of others. It is as if God is pleading with us, won’t you let the love that is in my divine heart fill your heart and overflow into the heart of your neighbor, so that I can reach that neighbor through you? Or, to invert that question, God may be asking us, can you see, beyond the unattractiveness or awkwardness of the other person’s looks or manner or attitude, a crying heart that is yearning, even desperate for tenderness, consolation or even just to be noticed?

Trusting that God calls each and every one of us to light a candle in the darkness of this world, or in the life of a dear neighbor who may live in awful isolation and neglect and is only a few words or gestures from becoming a friend, perhaps even a best friend, who may be working in a room on the same hall, or be only a phone call away — this is how lives are transformed and how the Holy Spirit renews the face of the earth. All it takes from each and every one of us is a tiny ounce of initiative, an act of the will, a “yes” to an invitation of grace. It might just begin with a simple smile, but it could change a life, maybe even save one.

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