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Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Today’s Reading | Acts 4:32–37
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (NRSV)
During the middle parts of the twentieth century, many Christian thinkers reflected on the relationship between Christianity and communism. Communism (Soviet style) was the great opponent of the West and (in its “purer” Marxian form) a philosophical worldview that informed many aspects of politics and sociology focusing on the plight of the powerless. Opinion ran from Reinhold Niehbuhr’s pragmatic anticommunist stance (related directly to the prevailing Stalinist regime) to political theologies informed by the Marxist critique of capitalism as a dehumanizing economic system (for example in the work of Jürgen Moltmann and the development of liberation theology). British writer Barbara Ward once described the Marxian concept of communism as “one of the great Christian heresies.”
This may all seem rather quaint in these post-communist (and we are told post-ideological) times, and yet in today’s little nugget of scripture is this description of the life of the early church. No private property, common ownership, no needy people, and resources “distributed to each as any had need.”
One might sympathize with Ward’s description as you place that passage beside Marx’s famous dictum that what he called “higher communism” would be present when community resources were distributed “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
Whatever your view of the (perhaps rather dated) debates of the last century, at the very least we should reflect on what Luke’s account of the early church’s “stewardship approach” says to our society in which, as a newspaper report put it, because of the concentration of wealth and the generational nature of poverty, ours is a “rags to rags and riches to riches” country.
We believe that God resides in slums, lives in broken homes and hearts, suffers our loneliness, rejection, and powerlessness. But through death and resurrection God gives life, pride, and dignity. Amen.
(Prayer from “Bread for Tomorrow: Praying with the World’s Poor”)
Reflection written by Calum I. MacLeod, Executive Associate Pastor
and Head of Staff
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