John ends his gospel with a compliment to each of us here today: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We have not seen, we have not touched and yet we still believe, in good times and in bad, the awesome truth that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” As we said after the renewal of our baptismal vows during the Vigil, ‘This is our faith, this is the faith of the church we are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
But I would like to say a few words on our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. This is part of Luke’s description of life in the early church. Its sounds so socialist, even communist. The whole group was of one heart and mind; no one claimed private ownership, certainly a heresy to our way of thinking today. Everything they owned was held in common. There was not a needy person among them. Things were distributed to each as they had need.
What an idyllic community! Of course Luke is describing a small group of like minded, spirit filled people who wanted to imitate Jesus who shared his life and love with all those he met and all who came to him in need. But problems soon developed. When we read St. Paul’s letters we see another side of the early church. He complained about Christians taking one another to civil courts and sexual scandals in the community. He was not happy with the ways the Eucharist was celebrated at which some had more than enough to eat and drink and others went without. In spite of these issues there was a deep awareness of the oneness of the different communities and a sense of responsibility for the well being of each community. The Christian community in Jerusalem was poor and persecuted and Paul went to all the churches in Asia Minor collecting money to support this struggling community in Jerusalem. He knew his efforts would be successful because the men and women in these communities had a sense of oneness with Christ and with each other. They had a sense of responsibility for the well being of each other. “See how these Christians love one another.”
This passage from the Acts of the Apostles does not attempt to impose a specific economic system of us. It does tell us that whatever economic system the followers of Jesus espouse it had better be a system that provided for the needs of all people, especially the neediest, the powerless in our society. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, we do have responsibility to those in need.
We need to recapture that mentality. We are influenced today by the old mentality of blaming the victim – you are on welfare, you live on food stamps, you are out of work, you sleep in shelters or on the streets because you are lazy. I worked hard for my good life why should I be taxed to support the likes of you? There is a mean-spiritedness in the air, a lack of kindness for the needy, a ‘me first mentality.’
Our recent Provincial and Federal budgets with their many cut backs on social programs will affect the neediest in our society. As someone wrote recently, ‘When times are hard and governments must impose pain on the public, the people who are already in dire circumstances need to be shielded, not targeted for additional sacrifice. It’s easy for cash strapped governments to target the disadvantaged, we all know the poor don’t make big political donations.
The recent cut backs in foreign aid will greatly affect the works of the church by the impact they will have on the Office of Development and Peace.
We are a long way from that lifestyle that vitalized the early church in which there was not a needy person among them. Things were distributed to each as they had need.
But all is not lost. There was an editorial in the Star stating that 64% of Canadians, including wealthy people, say they are willing to shell out a bit more in taxes to protect social programs such as health care, pensions, and access to higher education, all of which help to reduce income inequality. There is a growing concern among us about the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
These studies show there is still a spirit among us that echoes the mentality of the early Christians: “There was not a needy person among them. Things were distributed to each as they had need.”
Certainly that spirit is alive and well in this parish family. Your support of Share Life which supports the work of Development and Peace, your generosity to the works of our St. Vincent de Paul Society and our food and clothing drives really show there is a conviction that we are our brother and sisters keepers and so we reach out to those in need.
In this Eucharist we remember and celebrate Christ’s giving himself for us. Faithful to Christ’s commandment. ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ may we keep alive in our parish that spirit of the early church so that there is not a needy person among us.