We need to remember, as we celebrate Whitsun tomorrow, that progress in the Spirit is by fits and starts. The gift of the Holy Spirit is something we need to get used to, and the Holy Spirit needs to get used to us
The description St Luke gives of the Church in Jerusalem after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is one that has inspired many subsequent reform movements in the Church, and has been very influential in the foundation of many religious orders. It is not difficult to see why. It tells of the whole group of believers being of one heart and soul, with no one claiming private ownership of any possessions, but holding everything in common, and not a needy person among them (Acts 4:32-35).
Commentators describe this passage as a “summary”, but it is a very curious kind of summary, for no sooner has Luke given it than he appears to contradict it, at every point. First we hear of a married couple who tried to deceive the community by presenting only part of the proceeds of the sale of their property as though it were the whole (Acts 5: 1-11). A little later we are told of dissension that divided this early Christian community, if not along racial lines, then certainly along linguistic ones. The Hellenists (Greek speakers) grumbled against the Hebrews (Hebrew or Aramaic speakers) because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of bread (Acts 6:1-6). Christians are not supposed to grumble, even when they have something to grumble about, as St Paul told the Corinthians in peremptory fashion (1 Corinthians 10:10). But here we find grumbling among those who have just been described as being “of one mind and one heart”. How can these Hellenists have had anything to grumble about if the Jerusalem community held everything in common, and there was not a needy person among them?
The solution the Apostles found to this problem hardly allows them to be seen to best advantage as giving testimony to the Resurrection of the Lord with great power (Acts 4: 33). For whereas Jesus had characteristically attended to the physical and spiritual needs of the people, and had encouraged his disciples to do the same (cf. Mark 6:12-13), here we find the Apostles distinguishing between service to the Word and waiting on tables, and clearly regarding themselves as being too important to be involved in the latter. Nor did their solution address and heal the original division, for the seven they appointed to wait at tables all had Greek names: presumably there were separate soup kitchens for Hellenists and Hebrews thereafter.