It seems we humans have an ingrained “love” of fighting, defending ourselves, and drama. We are really good at it. Just look at the conflicts that are raging today in our world. We seem to love to fight, and that, in itself, should be a sign of a deep brokenness in us. Our impulse to fight, to demand our rights, to “get even” and “settle the score” all reveal a wound in humanity that must be addressed and healed.
A wise man once taught me that conflict is necessary if a community is going to grow and be strong. This is because conflict reveals people’s true intentions, and uncovers where hearts need to be healed. So, avoiding conflict isn’t good, but handling conflict badly isn’t good either. That always leads to division instead of healing. Handling conflict well is the key to community and to peace!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 6:1-7:
“IN THOSE DAYS, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochoros, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaos, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
So, the crux of the dispute was between the Hellenized Jews and the “native villager” Jews from Jerusalem. It seems that while all the widows were “equal” in this new community of the Church, some were more “equal” than others. And the danger to the community was growing because of this inequity to the point that it got the Apostles’ attention.
There is great wisdom in how the Apostles dealt with this conflict and their wisdom should be applied to our day as well.
First, the Apostles Understood their Priorities. It is a waste of resources when we encumber our leaders with duties that we should be taking care of in our parishes. The purpose the Apostles understood was their first priority was to obey the command of the Lord to them to go and make disciples through preaching (declaring) the Word of God. To take them off this necessary and vital task to make sure all the widows were cared for was to threaten the community. It is never in the best interest of the community to cause our leaders to have to come off their calling to do what we should all be doing. Setting our leaders free to be who they are for us and to us is ultimately for our benefit!
Next, the Apostles Saw their Purpose. The apostles understood that one of their tasks to keep the Church healthy was the recognition of the gifts of others that should be active in the community. Inactive parishioners means the parish is missing those particular gifts and abilities and that impoverishes us all. So, the Apostles called the people to purposeful participation in the community, and thus our Faith was blessed with the ministry of Deacons! The men named were the first deacons in the Church!
Finally, the Apostles Acted on their Plan. The Apostles blessed these newly ordained deacons to serve the Church, and by doing so, they acted as true fathers in the community by enabling the community to be healthy and not encumbered with the immature bickering that always leads to a weak and unproductive parish.
Today, are you allowing your leaders to be who they are or are our leaders weakened by having to take their energies that should be exclusively focused on serving before the Lord in prayer and the declaration of the Good News to the wider world and tending to issues in our parishes that we should already have dealt with as brothers and sisters in Christ? What is your role in your parish? What are your gifts? Are you fulfilling your part in this community or have you fallen into the temptation of handling conflict badly? The choice today is really between being Orthodox on Purpose or wasting our talents on efforts that don’t work anymore!