“Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task [of service], whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3)
These were the instructions that the apostles gave for selected the very first deacons. The widows were being neglected, because the apostles did not have the time to care for all the widows and to pray. The apostles addressed the problem by choosing seven men for their wisdom and love of God and ‘laying hands’ on them for the purpose of doing this service.
It seems to me that even in the early church there was a tension around whether service to those in need or worship was more important. The apostles decided that they would create a special office in the church—the deacon—to perform and supervise the charitable works of the church. If we had to name the difference, I think it would be fair to say that the deacons devoted themselves to the temporal affairs of the church: allocation of resources, distribution of alms, etc., while the apostles remained devoted to the spiritual affairs of the church. In modern times, these roles are a bit different; however, the focus still appears. Deacons are ordained to serve, and priests and bishops are ordained to teach and to lead. This is an over-simplification, but I think it can help shed some light on things for us.
Because I am in the process of priestly formation, this passage takes on a special importance for me. I am only a year away from ordination as a deacon, God willing. (Remember that every bishop has already been ordained a priest, and every priest has already been ordained a deacon.) At that ordination, I will make promises to live my life in a unique way. While I already practice that now, making a public promise of that is a very big deal. Occasionally, the gravity of these promises can seem overwhelming, which is why today’s Gospel is a perfect fit with the first reading. In today’s Gospel, Jesus walks on water, and this scares his disciples. Jesus knows this, and he tells them “It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Let us always remember the love that Jesus has for us. When we do, how could we possibly be afraid?
Today’s Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33:1-2, 45, 18-19; Jn 6:16-21