Three Sundays ago, we reflected on the wounds/scars of Jesus after his resurrection. We wondered why he kept the wounds/scars after his resurrection. If he could heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, and rise from death himself, why did he not clean himself up after the resurrection? We concluded the reflection by noting that he knew better; he knew that the wounds would serve as testimony that he came, he saw, and he conquered. He knew that his disciples would recognize him by the wounds, so he kept them. There is power in the scars. They tell the story of a Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, the Lord who loved unto death.” As a lesson from Jesus, we concluded that being ashamed of our backgrounds is not the right approach to life. For we are who we are today either because of or despite our backgrounds. Whatever God permits in our lives is for a reason, and our responsibility is to see whatever comes our way as an opportunity for growth.
The Church is the mystical Body of Christ. Just like Jesus rose from death without denying the reality of Good Friday, the Church tells her story, including the “shameful” aspects of her story. An example of such “shameful” parts is in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. This reading tells the story of apostles and disciples who saw Jesus in person, listened to him, ate with him, witnessed the resurrection, etc. Some others who did not directly witness, heard from first-hand witnesses. One would have expected them to be the best-behaved of all people, yet, they were fighting over food. What a shame! And to make matters worse, instead of sweeping it under the carpet, the early Christians put it into writing for us to read as if there is something heroic about the followers of Jesus fighting over food.
According to the first reading from Acts of the Apostles, “As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distributions.” The early Christians did not write it down because they were proud of the conflict. They wrote it down for us because they were proud of how they resolved the conflict through the power of the Holy Spirit. They wrote it down to teach us many lessons. This conflict came as part of the result of success. It was because they were growing in number and Christianity was expanding beyond the Hebrews that this conflict came up. So, when you progress, do not be surprised when you begin to face new challenges. Instead of allowing them to be a source of discouragement, work with the Holy Spirit to turn them into stepping stones to help you achieve higher success.
This early conflict was between the Hebrews and the Hellenists. Who were they? Both of them were Jews. The Hebrews were the Jews born, raised, and lived all their lives in Palestine. They followed the Law of Moses; and kept their fathers’ traditions. They also attended the synagogues and read the scripture in Hebrew language. On the other hand, the Hellenists were Jews who were born and raised abroad. Their contact with different cultures made them embrace and practice some customs the Jews condemned. They were not familiar with Hebrew. They mainly spoke Greek, read their scripture in Greek, and did not follow some of the traditions of their fathers. You can now imagine the tension between the two Jewish groups. It is in a way like the relationship between the various generations of immigrants in the U.S. Imagine immigrants like Mexicans who were born in Mexico, Philippinos born in the Philippines, or Nigerians born in Nigeria and the relationship between them and their children, grandchildren born in the U.S. You hear a lot of, “Stop it! That is disrespectful to our culture;” in response, you hear, “No, Mom! This is America! This is 2023.”
Why did the Hebrew neglect the Hellenists? Based on the apostles’ response, it is safe to assume that it was not deliberate. Probably, the Hebrews were in the majority, so it was easy for the Hellenists as a minority to fall into the blind spot of the Hebrews; it was easy for them to be forgotten since people naturally think of themselves first.
Today, we have great lessons to learn from the two groups. First, instead of murmuring at the back, the Hellenists confronted the leadership with the injustice they were experiencing. To the credit of the apostles, they did not go into self-defense. Their immediate response was, “How can we work together to solve this problem? Because they were humble enough and involved others and the Holy Spirit, the Church was blessed with the gift of a new ministry, the ministry of deacons. The sincerity of the apostles shows in the fact that at least one of the deacons, Nicholas of Antioch was a Hellenist.
The scars of the early Church come to us today as a lesson and blessing. If you are in the minority and you suffer any form of injustice, in charity, bring it up to the one behind the injustice. It may not be deliberate; it may be an effect of their blind spot. If you are in authority or in the majority, as Christian, always go out of your way to be sure you are not responsible for the pains of the minority. And when you are confronted with any form of injustice that may be coming from you, self-defense must not be your first reaction. Look into it in humility while seeking the help of the Holy Spirit and others to find a solution and grow from it.
I am a Roman Catholic Priest. In my Church, until now, ordinarily, only men (priests and deacons) preach at Mass. I had always taken it for granted that explanations of the readings mean the same for all, men and women alike. One Sunday, I preached how we can turn our failures into new opportunities for growth. After the Mass, a young lady approached me and said, “Father, that was a great and inspiring homily.” I was so happy to hear that. But she continued, “You gave three contemporary examples of people who grew from failure to success. I was disappointed that there was no female example. As a woman, I feel there was nothing for me.” I apologized to her, and I saw how I could easily preach as a man without paying attention to how a woman in the pew may feel about it. After that day, I resolved to always share my homily with at least one female for feedback before I delivered the homily. It is my way of minimizing my blind spot regarding my female listeners when I preach. My dearly beloved in Christ, as human beings, we will continue to have our scars, our wounds, and our blind spot. Let us pray to God to grant us the grace that such may not lead us to final damnation, but that the Holy Spirit may assist us to turn them into opportunities for growth until we come to our heavenly inheritance through Christ our Lord. Amen.