The reading from the Acts of the Apostles is one that captures something of our experience. Disciples are “complaining.” The King James Version says, “there arose a murmuring (”The Greek word is gogusmos.) Listen to how that word sounds and you get a sense of what was going on. As human beings and disciples we are familiar with murmuring, complaining, muttering under our breath, making some strange sounds, hearing strange sounds at times.
We even categorize some people as brooding. I remember someone describing me that way once. Not knowing exactly what that meant I investigated the meaning of the word in Webster’s dictionary. Webster informed me: “1. to sit on or incubate (eggs) for the purpose of hatching them; hence to hatch. 2. to think anxiously or moodily upon,; to ponder(to dwell continuously or moodily on a subject.” With these definitions I found the negative connotations of the word to disappear and I found I was thinking of myself when brooding as working on hatching something, perhaps meditating or nurturing.
But we need to ask ourselves, “what is my usual reaction to complaining, murmuring or brooding?” So often I think we dismiss it.
And just what were those who “spoke Greek complaining about– the ones who spoke Aramaic?” It is interesting how different translations name the neglect: RSV “because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” NAB “were neglected in the daily distribution.” CEV “were not given their share when the food supplies were handed out each day.” Because of these differences I wondered if the neglect only had to do with food or if it went further. The Greek word that named the neglect was diakonia. The NT dictionary in the Greek New Testament gives this definition for diakonia: “ministry, service; contribution, help, support; mission; perhaps office of deacon or authority.”
My brooding about these differences led me to recall my experience with another community that was suffering neglect. This was the community of homeless or poor that existed in Milwaukee. The first services provided were the creation of meal programs and distribution of food. The number of food programs began to grow. But there was a call for another food program on the South Side of Milwaukee. The St. Vincent de Paul societies took on this neglect and provided a meal program staffed by different parish Vincent de Paul societies. But before long the need for other services became obvious. Eventually this program grew into providing job counseling, housing information, addiction assistance, etc. A similar phenomenon has happened in Harlingen, Texas with a meal program that began as Loaves and Fishes.
I also recall that the Archbishop of Milwaukee heard complaining, murmuring, brooding about abortion. He did not dismiss it but instead chose to schedule a series of hearings. In the paper pictures appeared of some of these hearings. Hearing, attention, seriousness were captured in the pictures of the Archbishop and the women attending the hearings.
For me these hearings raise other issues about abortion. Is it enough to be concerned so totally with stopping actual abortions, or must we not also be concerned with the structural sins which create conditions in which a woman feels that abortion is her preferred choice?
In the Catholic Church at the present time the issue of Ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood is world wide. The variety of protests occuring in the “stay at home” time of the Corona Virus are evoking responses.
What are the other questions that people are complaining, murmuring, protesting, uttering under their breath about? What is my responsibility as a Catholic-Christian to those utterances? Am I able to get beyond the ostrich approach of taking my head and burying it in the sand? Am I able to stand up with both ears attentive to listen? Am I able to discern and to distinguish whether there is good or bad in protests, etc.?
Can I hear not just the words (sometimes expressed with fierce harshness and volatility)? Am I attuned to the non-verbals that people use to express themselves? Do I find myself able to get by the harsh tones of voice? Am I able to listen to the person who whispers, or perhaps even whimpers? Do I hear only the people that express themselves just as I do? Do I hear only the people who express themselves differently?
The Good News of the Reading from the Acts of the Apostles for me this Sunday is that the community was able to listen through the complaining to get at the real problem. They didn’t just deal with symptoms, the complaining. The real problem was that there was neglect within the community.
If we can’t get beyond the symptoms to the real problems we won’t experience the good news. Thank God Jesus who knew what was in people’s hearts. Thank God that the Twelve called together the whole community of disciples and acknowledged “it is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.” Therefore other ministers were chosen and appointed so that the word of God would not be neglected but neither would the concerns of those who spoke Greek. Seems to me that “clericalism” was at work in this early conflict. It still is today. Thank God for those in our midst that have the ability to get to the heart of the matter and come up with solutions.
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