Some thoughts on 5th Sunday of Easter - Cycle A
1 Peter 2:4-9
It is about the year 36 AD.
From this time until about 62 AD there was an uneasy tolerance between the Jewish synagogue authorities and the Church in Jerusalem associated with the Apostles.
However, we see in this passage from Acts the beginnings of conflict which was to have a profound effect on the history of the early Church.
There are clearly two groups in the Jerusalem Community; the Hellenists, or Greek speaking, non-Jewish people and the larger group of Hebrews, or Aramaic speaking Jewish converts.
The Hebrew community were still able and allowed (until 62 AD) to attend the Synagogue services, whereas the Hellenists could not. The Hellenists did not believe in the significance of the synagogue anyway. Perhaps this was the root of the conflict.
Whatever it was, the conflict has been translated into finance (no change there then!) and the majority Hebrews are attempting to force the Hellenists into conformity by depriving them of funds destined for widows who would be wholly dependent on them.
To cut a long story short, a powwow was called comprising “the full meeting of the disciples” (or those who were entitled to vote!). Rather than the Apostles sorting it out, which would have taken them away from their primary mission, twelve Hellenist leaders were appointed (led by Stephen) to take control of Hellenist affairs. It is likely that James, the brother of the Lord, assumed the role of leader of the Hebrews in Jerusalem from then until his persecution and death in 62 AD.
In effect, the cultural and theological differences between the two groups were deemed to be of far less importance than a common belief in Jesus. A profound lesson for us all.
There is much more to be said about Stephen’s role in the early church and how Saul, renamed Paul, would become his successor as leader of the Hellenist church. But that story is for another day.
In the second reading we are reminded by Peter that Jesus is the “cornerstone” rejected by his people but chosen by God. In consequence, we are now the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation”. We are the new “people of God”.
(C) Bob Birtles 2011