Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
The Lord is king, in splendour robed;
robed is the Lord and girt about with strength.
He has made the world firm,
not to be moved.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting you are, O Lord. (R./)
Your decrees are worthy of trust indeed:
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, for length of days. (R./)
Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus aswered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
The Acts passage raises the issue whether a fair sharing of property can be achieved within the church. We see how, at least for a while, the early Christians at Jerusalem pooled all their resources, and there was no one in financial distress. Later, however, their destitution was such that Paul has to take up a collection during his travels in Greece for the sake of the Jerusalem community. Communal sharing of goods remained an ideal but was quickly abandoned as a prescribed way of life.
The idealism of the early Christians can rouse our desire to relive such an idyllic experience of community. How wonderful if we shared all our goods, cared for one another, were equal in wealth and poverty, and found our greatest contentment and strength in community and God's providence. But isn't it more often that our gifts and talents divide us one from another? We are too demanding that our personal priorities and insights which differ from others should prevail. The artist seems too impractical, the talented person too dominating, the capable leader turns dictatorial, the scholar demands our consent before we have time to think out the question.
Peace comes by humbly realizing that no one has a corner on all the gifts. Tensions can then be healthy and prevent us from speeding in any single direction and overlooking other turns and possibilities. Tensions remind us that gifts are given not just personal fulfilment but rather to be shared in the joy and love of family. None of us, no matter how gifted, can be saved unless our talents are shared with others and balanced by others' gifts. Community balances us, lest our gifts get out of hand, and can bring extraordinary surprises into our lives. The best growth takes place within community, because there is where the Spirit dwells.
We can notice a stretch in the evenings these days, now that it is bright beyond 7.00 pm. Most of us like the light. We are pleased to know that the daylight is lengthening every day at this time of the year. Our heart sinks a bit in Winter when we see how the days have begun to get shorter. Even though most of us like the light, the gospel notes how people seem to prefer darkness to light. The evangelist is referring there not to daylight, but to the one who calls himself the light of the world.
Our calling is to "come out into the light," in the words of the gospel. Today's gospel makes the very generous statement that all who live by the truth come out into the light. All who seek the truth are already standing in the light of Christ, even though they may not be aware of it. The gospel suggests that people of faith, those who seek to be guided by the light of Christ, will always have something very fundamental in common with all who seek the truth with sincerity of heart.