The first reading this Sunday finds the first Christian community confronting an internal social justice. The Greek speaking widows were getting treated unfairly in the daily distribution of the communal food and supplies. They had a number of strikes against them. Not only were they women in a patriarchal society, but they were widowed, without a man's voice. Moreover, in the Jewish community of disciples mostly from Galilee, they were minorities, who likely came from places other than Palestine with a different language and culture.
The response of the community, after prayer and direction of Holy Spirit is to lay hands on seven Greek speaking men. They are seen in our tradition as the first "deacons." Although the passage talks about their ministry as being primarily service at table to address the injustice, it's important to note that two of them, Stephen and Philip, become immediately involved in missionary activity. Stephen goes out into the streets to proclaim the Good News and ends up becoming the community's first martyr. Philip leaves the security of the Jewish community to do mission work, first in Samaria and then heads south where he encounters the Ethiopian court official, who he baptizes along the road.
|Deacons Joe, Leo and wife Edith with veteran Maryknollers|
We recently had our third gathering of deacons and wives back at Maryknoll, NY. This is an initiative to help better engage deacons and wives in the U.S. in mission through mission formation and immersion trips so that they can become animators of mission in their local parishes and dioceses. The excitement and enthusiasm among these men and women of the diaconate for mission is a great sign of hope.
What happened almost 2,000 years ago in response to an injustice within the community continues today. The Spirit continues to call and send men and women to participate in the mission.