In the church in Jerusalem the number of disciples increased and there were complaints of Greek-speaking Jews against Aramaic-speaking Jews because of the neglect of their widows in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6: 1).
Women for their livelihood usually depended on males and widows were the most destitute. The Old Testament focuses on the need to watch over them (Deut 14:29, 24: 19,26: 12, Is.1: 17). Some commentators believe that this daily distribution was a constant practice and that about six years had already elapsed between Pentecost and what was happening.
Church leaders paid attention to the grievances of those who suffered injustice and took the problem seriously by convening a gathering of believers in Jesus Christ. It was not something of little importance and they implicitly acknowledged that distribution was not well done.
We should note that it was at the feet of the apostles that the offerings were laid for distribution (Acts 4:35) and they would be immediately responsible for the difficulties presented. The problem had to be resolved and authority delegated to others.
There is a vision that derives from Pentecost and is that the Spirit of God is poured out on all mankind (Acts 2:17). It is not the "Greeks" who bring the problem. It is the Holy Spirit who brings to his Church people from every language, culture and nation. "The church is a community of people of diverse cultures, traditions and customs." The Spirit of God is inclusive and this challenges us to be an open church where people can have a voice and be heard.
"So the twelve gathered together the whole community of disciples and said to them: It is not right for us apostles to neglect the ministry of the word of God to serve the tables." They then decided with the assembly to look for seven men of good reputation, filled with Spirit and wisdom, to entrust this responsibility (Acts 6: 2-4).
The seven chosen had Greek names and most likely came from a Hellenistic background. They were Esteban, Felipe, Procoro, Nicanor, Timón, Parmenas and Nicolás. The latter who was elected was a proselyte from Antioquia. This means that he was not Jewish by birth but by conversion.
The Hellenists were non-Greek people who spoke the Greek language and adopted the Greek way of life. They were called "Greeks" being Jews because they had been raised far from Palestine. Its contrast is the "Hebrews", the Jews of Palestine, whose language is Aramaic.
The Hellenists or "Greeks" of the Jerusalem church were more progressive than the Hebrews, both in their teaching and in practice. Stephen would play a dinámico role in the development of the Christian mission and its extension to the whole world. The church, opening to the "Greeks" or Greek Jews, opened up to a part of the community that would soon serve as a bridge for the mission among the Gentiles.
Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6: 5). He is also described as full of the grace and power of God doing great miracles and miraculous signs among the people (Acts 6: 8). Those who began to argue with him could not "face the wisdom nor the Spirit with whom he spoke" (Acts 6:10). His opponents sought ways to raise false accusations, to stir up the people, the elders, the teachers of the law and they were able to bring Stephen before the council (Acts 6: 11-12). At the time of opposition, Stephen's face resembled that of an angel (Acts 6:15)
It is interesting to note that while the apostles emphasize and retain the ministry of the word of God, "it is Stephen who proclaims this word, and gives supreme witness to it through his martyrdom. As a result of this event, Christians, particularly the 'Greeks', disperse and with this the mission expands. Immediately after, it is Felipe, another of the 'seven', who occupies the center of the stage to take the gospel first to Samaria and then to the Ethiopian eunuch "(1)
The Spirit again and again calls the church to a new obedience. "What would have happened to the church if Stephen and Philip had said: No, our ministry is that of the tables, not that of the word, and therefore we are not to preach?" (2) What emerges from what happened is that there is a close relationship between justice and mission. The mission scenario is being prepared for Gentiles or other ethnic groups.
A church has to be open to everyone. The community of the Kingdom of God and of the Spirit implies being an inclusive community not only in receiving and inviting people of any ethnic background, but in extending everywhere to the ends of the earth. The future of the church would be in those "Greeks" who had been marginalized.
As a result of the decisions that were made, the text of the word of God tells us: "And the word of God was spread: the number of the disciples increased considerably in Jerusalem, and even many of the priests obeyed the Faith" ( Acts 6: 7)
As a community of the Kingdom of God we are challenged to have equity and inclusion, justice and mission. That all ethnic groups and social groups have the opportunity to be part of the church. We are called to cross barriers from church to no church; in being, doing and saying, in beneficio of the extension of the Kingdom of God. May God help us in this.
Questions for reflection:
How do we usually respond to the complaints of those who suffer some kind of injustice?
Are we people who act with equity and inclusion? Do we usually look for the needs of all or do we act with a certain favoritism? Do we have any kind of prejudice or suspicion with certain social, cultural and ethnic groups?
Do we usually delegate and trust others? What should be the characteristics of these people?
What does it mean to be a church open to all and spread out everywhere? What does it mean to cross barriers from church to no church to the ends of the earth? Is the Spirit of God presenting us with a new challenge and obedience?
Local and Global Mission (GloCal)
Autonomous City of Buenos Aires – Argentina
(1) Gonzalez, Justo L, Acts Hispano-American Biblical Commentary, p. 131, Editorial Caribe, 1992
(2) Ibid., P. 131, Editorial Caribe, 1992Author: Carlos Scott
Carlos is a member of the executive committee and total leadership council of the Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Resides in Buenos Aires.. (tagsToTranslate) articles