Acts 6.1-7; Psalm 32; John 6.16-21
St Luke is a writer of utmost subtlety, and his account of the development of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles (the second volume of his account of the Good News of Jesus and its transformative power) often contains understated ironies.
So in today’s reading a problem is brought to the Apostles: in the daily distribution of food [cf Acts 2.44-46; 4.32] Hebrew speakers (that is, those who were ethnically Jewish) were being favoured over Greek speakers (that is, those who were ethnically Gentiles). The Twelve responded to this complaint with hauteur. ‘We are preachers of the Word of God’ they declared. ‘We can’t be expected to deal with such trivial matters. Appoint some Gentiles to perform this ministry.’
The word ministry is the Latinate English translation of the Greek word diakonos, or servant. [cf Luke 22.26] (Minister is cognate with familiar English words like minimal.) Luke offers no commentary; instead, he names the six chosen ‘deacons’ and then in the succeeding chapters one of them, Stephen, preaches with eloquence far beyond that of the Twelve; and another, Philip, transmits the Gospel to Africa. The racial conflicts revealed by this particular incident will continue to plague the Church throughout the pages of the New Testament and beyond it, but the Witness of these ‘ministers’ and their proclamation of the Gospel will serve to carry the Gospel message far beyond the boundaries of race and clan.