Ever since Easter I've been reading the Book of Acts, a few chapters each week. As the Book describes the Early Church, I am captivated with the way they "do life together" (I love that expression that I've heard so often from Beth's Church in Colorado). It's so challenging to me the way they share their possessions and money. I want to live that way, but I don't. Listen to this:
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." Acts 4:32-35, emphasis mine
Today's mail brought a copy of North Texas Catholic, a newspaper we've been receiving ever since we registered at our church in Texas. It's been coming to our home monthly for probably three years, yet I think today -when it was forwarded to our new address- may be the first time I actually read it. It's a good thing I did because it carried quite a message to my heart.
The article that caught my attention was called "Connect with the Poor," and it described a social ministry conference. The speaker (Jack Jezreel, founder of JustFaith) spoke boldly about engaging Christians in social justice ministry, especially through relationship-building and direct service. One section of the article described a "hunger banquet," which was used as a tool to bring to light the reality of the issues of hunger and food insecurity. Here is an excerpt from the article:
"The heart of the Hunger Banquet involved people experiencing the disparities between the rich and the poor in a visceral way. Though some at the banquet received full meals, Price said most of the people at her table received just toast with a cheese spread.
'It made us think about food insecurity and why it exists in our country.'
The Hunger Banquet was an eye-opening experience for many conference participants, explained Laura Sotelo, director of parish relations for Catholic Charities Fort Worth.
'You could feel the uncomfortable disparity between the simulated rich and poor guests,' she added. 'Sometimes forcing ourselves into the other person's shoes is exactly what it takes to understand and empathize with others in our community.'"
Upon reading this, I began to imagine what I would do and what the people at the conference must have done in this situation. I imagine those with full plates started sectioning off their meals and scraping it onto the plates of those who only had toast. I'd like to think that's what I would do. I want to live that way, but I don't.
Several months ago, Husband and I became convinced that we should give more of our income to support the Church. After discussing it together and with some good friends, we decided to give 10%, which meant multiplying our previous giving by 15! Don't be impressed by any means. I confess we waited until we were quite comfortable financially before we allowed our hearts to be open to giving anything remotely worth putting on a tax return. We had been very selfish, and in fact -while God gives us joy about offering more- maybe we still are selfish because we are eating full meals while there are people out there eating toast.
We are still giving out of our wealth. I long to give out of our poverty (Luke 21: 1-4). How is this done? I pray God will change my heart -and my head- drastically.
As soon as I finished reading the above-mentioned article, I immediately thought of the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. John 6: 1-15 retells the way a crowd of 5,000 had gathered to listen to Jesus. They needed to be fed, and Jesus used the five loaves and two fish of a boy to do it. Jesus gave thanks for the food, and the disciples distributed it to the crowd. After the whole crowd ate until they were satisfied, the disciples were still able to fill twelve baskets with left overs! (I love the way I now see -after revising this post so many times- the way even this is a metaphor for the Church. Jesus gives the food, the disciples distribute it to those in need. There is more than enough of Him to go around, and we follow Him with great satisfaction.)
I always saw this story as a great miracle, but now I also recognize the lesson in it. It begs the question, am I taking until I am satisified -until my needs are met- or am I consuming until I am stuffed? When I eat until I am stuffed, there probably aren't any left overs for anyone else. This is just as true with food as money as possessions as anything else. I may even ask myself, am I leaving the leftovers to waste, or am I gathering them up to use them well?
When Acts describes the absence of needy persons among the believers, it doesn't say everyone has the exact same everything. The way I read it: where there is satisfaction in the presence of Jesus, there are left overs. Where there are left overs gathered and offered, there will be no one in need.
I think this type of gathering and offering develops faith more fully, from which further offering flows. A deep well of faith, is what allowed the poor widow to give all she had to live on. God's challenge to love is here. However, as usual, there's more (and this is why Christianity fascinates me so):
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied...But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry." Luke 6: 20-21a, 24-25a
Be poor before God. Be hungry before God. Be aware of my need for His grace and provision, and seek Him with my whole heart.
P.S. I started to include the section below in my post originally, but decided it didn't really go with what I was talking about. Even so, I have been thinking about this scripture for a few days. It was very challenging for me, and I was glad to gain some clarity, as described below. I thought it might be helpful to you as well.
The story in Acts that immediately follows the one about the believers sharing their possessions, is one I had never read before. Acts 5: 1-11 describes a man and his wife, Ananias and Sapphira. They decided to sell a piece of property; giving some money to the apostles for the Church and saving some for themselves. When individually confronted about it by Peter, each of them lied. Upon lying, and Peter revealing that he knew the truth about their actions, they fell dead! They fell dead! Verse 11 reads: "Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events." Great fear would seize me, too! Rather, it really should seize me now.
Husband and I talked about this last night. He remembered the story from grade school, of course. He remembers everything from his Catholic school upbringing; they really did a fantastic job! I was so focused on what happened to the people (the part about falling dead), but Husband mentioned that the point may be their hearts. He described what is also in my bible's study note: Ananias and Sapphira had the right to keep for themselves whatever amount of the money they chose. The sin that caused them to fall dead was lying to God when they tried to make it appear that they had given everything for God's people although they had not. The study note goes on to say "it was important to ... leave no doubt that God will not tolerate such hypocrisy and deceit".
Fear should seize me that I would not attempt to deceive God. Faith should fill me that I would rejoice in doing good works for his glory!