About this time, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews: in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked. So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food; you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.’ The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith.
In the evening the disciples went down to the shore of the lake and got into a boat to make for Capernaum on the other side of the lake. It was getting dark by now and Jesus had still not rejoined them. The wind was strong, and the sea was getting rough. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming towards the boat. This frightened them, but he said, ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’ They were for taking him into the boat, but in no time it reached the shore at the place they were making for.
the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews
Arguments within the early brotherhood of Christ’s followers were already present. As shown in the first reading, the Hellenists (Greeks) and the Hebrews (Jews) that comprised the early Christians, had their differences and divisions. This happened as ‘the number of disciples was increasing’. So we should not be surprised that it still happens to this day.
I believe one of the arguments of the early Christians would probably be about ‘primacy’ and ‘eligibility’ of fellowship — that is, who came first and who is worthy of being counted. We can infer this because of the specific mention of ‘Hellenists’ and ‘Hebrews’ as well as ‘widows’. The primacy of the Jews as God’s chosen people as mentioned in Old Testament scriptures could not be avoided by the Greeks who understandably may have felt second-class. Not to mention within themselves, emerged their widows, who were losing out in the ration of grain. Imagine the kind of discontent the first apostles would have to deal with and smoothen out.
Yet, they did not avoid the situation. Instead they convened a council to announce a better way forward. They acknowledged the reality of the situation, but also humbly admitted that they may not be the best persons to administer a solution. Within the Church, this was the start of ordaining bishops, deacons, and various apostolates. From this too, we see the institution of the first ‘public administration’ or ‘civil service’, in today’s speak.
What does this mean for us Christians? It is the notion of leadership, formation, and succession. The Twelve Apostles prefigure for us a leadership that is confident and secure in their own ministry, yet also humble enough to realise they could not do everything. They had a calling, but they also had real limitations.
They had a common higher purpose: ‘continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word’. They had self-knowledge: ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food.’ They cared about formation and renewal: ‘select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them’. They were aware of the importance of succession: ‘They presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.’
As Christians who may also be leaders in various offices, let us reflect on our roles and duties, and ponder how we can reflect true leadership for our members and teams. One of the lessons that emerged from the fairly recent passing of ex-Prime Minister of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew, was the realisation that he had contributed to building a public system that could renew itself and relied not on one particularly person. At the same time, each and every person within the organisation or team has a valuable role and contribution. May we not shy away from leadership, nor fellowship.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, we offer up this humble ministry of Oxygen in service to you. We pray that you will continue to sustain our mission and renew our team.
Thanksgiving: We give you thanks for the many people you have sent our way. Writers and readers alike, who contribute to giving our work purpose and continuity.