They fled and they fed

Monday, July 15, 2013 Proper 10

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 25 (morning) // 9, 15 (evening)

1 Samuel 18:5-16, 27b-30

Acts 11:19-30

Mark 1:29-45

Like many other passages from the Acts of the Apostles, today’s second reading describes a rapid population increase in the early Christian community. The passage reminds us, though, that the Christian community didn’t always grow by bold leaps forward. Sometimes, it grew out of fear and famine. Expanding the Christian family had an urgent, practical purpose: to meet basic human needs throughout the world.

The disciples in today’s reading started their missions in flight mode. They weren’t looking for new recruits, but for refuge. They did not set out as conquerors on the offensive, looking to expand the horizons of those who shared their worldview. Rather, they “scattered because of persecution.” Initially, the early Jewish Christians spoke only to the fellow Jews they found in their new lands. A few, however, took the risk of talking to their culturally Greek neighbors. From these conversations, the church in Antioch was born.

It takes about a year for Barnabas and Saul to establish the new Christian community in Antioch. Once they are up and running, a prophet comes from Jerusalem to tell them about an imminent severe famine. The disciples agree that they will collect food, with everyone contributing from their own capacity to give, and they will “send relief to the believers living in Judea.” Thus, the Christian community counteracts the food insecurity that some of its members face.

This spirit of redistributing resources comes from the new sense of communal identity that appears in today’s reading. The passage tells us that in Antioch, “the disciples were first called ‘Christians.'” This new name for the disciples signifies a change in their primary identity and allegiance. The earlier verses in this reading identify people based on their ethnicity or region of origin: “Jews,” “men of Cyprus and Cyrene,” “Hellenists.” Together, people with these identity-markers forge an alternative name for themselves: “Christians.”

It is deeply important to remember that the earliest people known as Christians weren’t simply seeking a larger kingdom. Instead, they were scattered, dislocated, pursued into new terrain. And they didn’t become “Christians” by designing a strategic expansion. Instead, they stumbled into a structure that could deliver relief for one another’s needs.

The earliest Christians fled their homelands and formed a new family. They founded new communities and fed their most distant members. Like these earliest Christians, we can use our wide reach to offer one another protection against hostilities and vulnerabilities of all kinds. We can bear in mind that the earliest Christians didn’t always have a firm plan. Sometimes, they just did what they had to do, and did whatever they could: they fled, and they fed.

Inspired as a child by Maria Von Trapp, Luke Skywalker, and Jesus, Lora Walsh strives for wisdom, justice, and a simpler way.  She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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