Phaidra turned to study the woman standing beside her.
“Have we met?” she asked.
The older woman shook her head. She seemed worn, sad, resigned. Phaidra tried again.
“Were you there when the one named Peter, friend and disciple of the Risen Lord, spoke in our language with such power?”
The older woman smiled a little and gave a small nod.
“Did you believe and were you baptized on that day? I myself was one of those who thought they had been drinking wine all through the night, all those people pouring out of that house. ‘You’re drunk’ I shouted! Yet, when Peter began to speak, I was pierced to the heart. I joined the Lord’s assembly that very day!”
The older woman’s smile had grown as Phaidra told her story.
“I, too,” she said, quietly.
“What’s your name, sister?”
The older woman ducked her head. She had been named “Wisdom,” by parents who had rejoiced at the birth of a daughter. How she had loved her name, especially when spoken in the voice of her husband, Aeneas. “Come, Wisdom my love,” he would say, then quote from the Proverbs. They had been a good match. Times had been very hard with him gone.
Phaidra and Sofia had been waiting in the temple complex with many of the other believers, to pray, worship together, and break bread together. They had come empty-handed, as they most often did, for as widows their means were meager. Finally, one of the Hebrew-speaking believers approached them to say the bread had already been broken, the meal was over. Both of their faces fell, and Phaidra could feel tears well up inside her.
“But, this is the fourth day running.”
She spoke in a soft, hurt voice, entreating him in Greek, second language to them both, but the tongue everyone could speak. Rome had been trying to make Latin the language of their sprawling empire, but Greek was rooted deep.
The messenger simply shrugged, palms up.
“Be blessed, sister,” he said, and walked away.
The church was growing rapidly, having now surpassed a membership of five thousand, including people from several language groups and cultures. But, there appeared to be racial, or at least cultural, discrimination in the distribution of food. A number of the Hellenistic Christians went to the twelve disciples of Jesus, now called apostles of the Risen Lord, with their unhappy report that Hebrew widows were getting preferential treatment in the sharing of food.
This complaint had to have cut the twelve to the quick. Had they not been a part of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of five thousand Jewish men (not counting their families)? And had they not later been with Jesus for His miraculous feeding of the four thousand in the Decapolis, many of whom were gentiles? How could they fail to feed all whom the Lord had now brought into their care?
Peter, especially, must have felt deeply troubled. The Lord had asked him three times, “Do you love Me, Peter?” How that question had pained Peter, especially after his betrayal of Jesus during His darkest hour.
“Yes, Lord, of course I do!”
“Then feed my lambs, my sheep.”
Yet, if the apostles succumbed to the pressure of personally overseeing the daily distribution of food, then their ministry of prayer and teaching and preaching would be undermined. They needed the Spirit of Jesus within them to guide them in wisdom.
The church still struggles with this balance. Social work often tempts churches to stop concentrating on the more inward practices of prayer, teaching, contemplation, depth of spiritual growth and connection with God, in order to serve the people. Sometimes churches go in the other direction, and make the mistake of letting the government and charities deal with social work while they concentrate only on Sunday school and sermons.
But social programs and spiritual practices are both needed. So, God gave the apostles a solution that would allow the church to concentrate equally on feeding hungry hearts as well as hungry bodies.
Notice what happens – after praying and following God’s guidance, there was another explosion of growth! Even many priests were now being won over by the gospel. Here’s the cycle again: a great problem of inequitable treatment among the brethren, prayer over the newly appointed deacons, powerful increase in church membership … and then opposition through the persecution of Stephen, which we’ll look at more next week.
Image | courtesy Biswarup Ganguly [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D