Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, "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, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word." What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just;
for praise is fitting for loyal hearts.
Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp,
with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs. (R./)
For the word of the Lord is faithful
and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love. (R./)
The Lord looks on those who revere him,
on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
to keep them alive in famine. (R./)
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.
When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
This gospel reflects some times in life when we are critically threatened, such as during our present Coronavirus emergency … this virus that threatens to engulf and sink us. But Jesus is always “Emmanuel, God with us”, able to save us from whatever threatens our life.
Our reading from Acts shows a fine blend of faith and common sense. It tells how the apostles resolved an emerging problem in the Christian community by a common-sense proposal allied with prayer. The Greek-speakers in the church felt that the needs of their widows and orphans were being neglected, while welfare handouts were provided to the native Hebrew-speakers, disciples born in the Holy Land. The apostles asked the community to nominate seven devout and prudent men to oversee the social needs of the Greek-speaking Christians.
The selecting and appointing of those first deacons could suggest a solution for a major need of our Church today, namely to ensure new and adequate forms of ministry for the People of God. The apostles did not try to settle this issue by an authoritative decree that would rule out all discussion! Their way of selecting the deacons, by letting the faithful nominate the candidates of their choice, has much to recommend it, in contrast to our centralised form of episcopal selection today. We need to use the people’s intelligence and common sense when planning for the future needs of our church.
The apostles did not act like oligarchs, imposing a dictat to resolve a local situation. Rather, they made a prudent proposal, leaving its implementation to the community, or as we might say “the grass-roots.” Because the mission of the Twelve was preaching and teaching, they welcomed the new ministry of deacons, whom they ordained by the laying-on of hands.
But all may not be lost even if some desirable church reform seems blocked by magisterial obstinacy or lack of insight. The Lord can change a situation from apparent disaster to recovery. In the midst of a storm on the lake and afraid of drowning, the disciples unexpectedly found their way to shore. Despite whatever discontents we may feel with aspects of church leadership today, our faith can continue.
There’s a dynamism in this story of Jesus walking on the water. We do not know what God will do, to heal the world of our present Coronavirus pandemic. Miracles are not predictable, they simply happen! We need to be willing to live with risk, trusting that God can save us from peril.
However when problems arise, our first recourse ought to plan and discuss solutions with others. We want to remain within our faith community even if sometimes we need to voice a loyal protest. We do not stomp out because of frustration, or respond so angrily as to risk schism. What is impressive in the appointment of the deacons is the quiet, non-dominant style of the Twelve. Along with prudence and common sense, they have recourse to prayer and they consult the faithful about the way forward. That is how authority was exercised in the early Church. We pray that the same style will be replicated today, especially regarding the future of the ministry.
Back to the storm on the lake. Jesus had sent his disciples in their boat to cross the lake while he went into the hills to pray. But his prayer did not make him forget his friends. He knew they were struggling against the wind and worn out with rowing. If prayer is genuine, it sharpens our awareness of the needs of other people.
If our prayer opens us up to God, it leaves us more open to others who are struggling with the stress of life. When Jesus gets into the boat with his disciples the wind drops and they come into a calmer space. We too ask for the Lord’s calming presence during the Corona Virus storm that threatens to swamp us. And by his grace, we hope to channel to others our trust in his saving presence.