Being Small and Being Great in the Service of the Lord
The problem reported in the First Reading has to do with food for widows. The Greeks thought that their widows were being neglected and that the widows among the Jews were getting the best of things, and so the Greeks complained to the Apostles. The Apostles said, sensibly enough, that they couldn’t be expected to handle food distribution. Their job was to evangelize and spread the Gospel. And so they picked some people to do the small job of supervising food handouts for them. Stephen was one of those picked.
Who would have wanted to be in that group with Stephen? The people in Stephen’s group were chosen to do a job that was not nearly as important as the work the Apostles were doing. That’s why the Apostles wanted somebody else to do it. By comparison with important things, like spreading the Gospel, or anything else great and admirable, watching over food distribution is a very small job.
But Stephen didn’t complain that the job was beneath his talents and abilities. He didn’t insist on being given a role in the great work of the Apostles. He just took the small job he had been offered, and he served the Lord whole-heartedly in it.
Later in the book of Acts (Acts 7), we learn what came of Stephen’s humility. His whole-hearted service of the Lord in food distribution attracted the attention, and the hatred, of those outside the growing Church; and they went after him. In the worst of circumstances, with his life at stake, he gave a powerful witness to the Lord he loved, and the surrounding crowd stoned him to death.
In his witness and his martyrdom, he was not small. He was glorious. His life and work for the Lord became part of Scripture itself, and for over two thousand years all Christians have honored and admired him.
And so his whole-hearted service of the Lord in the little job of food distribution, the job that was not worthy of being compared with the job of the Apostles, made Stephen a participant in the great work the Apostles did. In the witness of his death he became a partner in the gospel-spreading of the Apostles and more than worthy of being in their company.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University