Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Option for the Poor
- Acts 6: 1-7. The early church grows with many converts including Jewish Priest. The Deaconate is developed to help serve the needs of the poor.
- 1 Peter 2:4-9. Peter continues with this early baptismal liturgy by commissioning the disciples as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood.”
- John 14:1-12. Jesus describes the intimate relationship that he shares with God the Father and assures those of us who follow him a place in the Kingdom of God.
Thoughts for your consideration:
During this Easter season it is appropriate for us to reflect on the development of the early Church and to consider the various issues that they had to address as they strove to build on the foundation that Jesus left them. The first reading attests to one of these early social issues that they faced. The evangelical mission of the Apostles was neglecting the basic needs of some of their poorer members. In what appears to be a creative and open process the Apostles deliberated with the community of followers and gave them the resources to organize another layer of church structure that would address this most pressing social need. It has always impressed me how the early church took the “option for the poor” with such a priority. The poor widows were being neglected and the Church recognized this as an immediate priority. The Apostles wrestled with their desire to continue promoting their evangelical mission but they would not allow this noble duty to become a legitimate excuse for neglecting the poor. Instead they sought a creative solution and empowered the larger community to design this solution. So impressed is the Jewish community to this model of service and participation that even the elite members of the Jewish priesthood begin to join.
In the second reading Peter continues to offer the baptismal liturgy that we have been reading for the past couple of weeks. In this section however we hear Peter calling the followers of Christ ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood.’ Consistent with the first reading Peter is again empowering us all to take part in the mission of building the Kingdom of God. Peter invites us all to share in the intimate union with God and one another. An invitation which flowed from the mystical union that Jesus had with the Father and which he shares with the Apostles in the Gospel passage. This union invites us to consider the great dignity that we have through God but it also forces us to see and respect that same dignity in all others.
One can see in the Gospel passage how Jesus really wanted to convey this intimate union that he shared with God. Poor Thomas and Philip tried to understand this relationship from a human experience but Christ had to challenge them to see the radical nature of this union which he wanted them to share in. Jesus invites them to engage in a relationship of solidarity with God and one another where they can truly see their own purpose and interest vested in each other.
Going back to the first reading we see the earliest development of the Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” By this principle the Church evaluates the state of the Body of Christ based on how the poorest members of their community are faring. The option for the poor serves as a common denominator that forces us to reevaluate our community obligations based on the neglect of those who are most in need. To preach of God’s love requires us to be agents of justice and peace to one another. Jesus tells the apostles that his intimate relationship with God the Father can be acknowledged through the works that he does. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.”
Questions for Reflection in your Faith Sharing Group
- Thomas’ question is one that we continue to hear today. “How can we know the way?” Indeed how can people know the way if so many Christians offer any number of options and perspectives for following Christ? How will our works help people believe in the Gospel message of justice and peace?
- The “preferential option for the poor” is a wonderful theological concept that occupies many scholarly works. But how can this principle be applied within the concrete context of the parish or faith community? Who is being “neglected in the daily distribution?”