Over the years I have returned often to the first five chapters of the Book of Acts for inspiration; they provide an admittedly ideal glimpse into the life of the early Christian community—how they lived together in unity, harmony, sharing all things in common, praying and supporting one another. One passage says it all: "Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and simple hearts, praising God and having the good will of the people." (2:46-47) These same chapters, by the way, were very instrumental in the formation of early monasticism. The first monks felt they were trying to imitate that idyllic life together.
However, when we turn to chapter six in the Book of Acts, the tone changes considerably. The beginning of chapter six forms the first reading of today’s liturgy. In it the Hellenists complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of goods. The apostolic leaders respond by appointing seven individuals to take care of this task. But this episode only forms the beginning of a whole series of difficulties, internal and external, that the early Christian community had to deal with. A good part of the remaining chapters of Acts shows how they struggled with those difficulties, the biggest of them being the full acceptance of Gentiles into the Christian movement. That struggle takes a long, long time.
In these Sundays after Easter we have been exploring how we can manifest a "living hope" in the Resurrection of Jesus. On previous sundays we examined actions of mutual respect, reverent behavior, and being perceptive to the gates of God’s presence in our lives. This episode of the neglected widows shows another way: by a commitment to work patiently, patiently for something that you deeply believe is good. If you know that there’s a good end to your desires, you will try and try again to achieve it. You will put up with temporary failures, snags and your own inner discouragement to keep going and try again. In so doing we witness to a living hope in the Resurrection of Jesus.
A book that I’m currently reading provides an excellent example of that determination. It’s by a young man, Kyle Kramer, and is titled A Time to Plant. By the way, he’s the assistant academic dean at St. Meinrad. In the book he tells his life story. It begins to get interesting when he’s in graduate school, studying to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Slowly a vision of life forms in him of becoming an organic farmer. He had no experience of this outside of growing a small vegetable garden. But he eventually gives up his academic and ministry career to buy a small farm plot near his parents in southern Indiana. He learns farming by trial and error (lots of errors). He marries a wife with a similar ecological mindset. Knowing little about construction he sets out to build a house for himself, his wife and the twins that surprised them both. At times in building this house his discouragement is overwhelming. Often frustrated, he sits and cries for long periods of time in the winter while he’s trying to put the wiring and plumbing into the shell of a house. Battling again and again against discouragement and depression and the strains it puts on his marriage and family, he eventually manages to succeed in the task. But it takes a lot longer than he expected. He kept at it because he believed it was a good end and worthy of enduring effort.
If you know the end you seek is good, you will work at it patiently over and over. And in so doing, we do witness to a living hope in the Resurrection of Jesus.