Acts chapter 6 recounts the story of Stephen the Martyr, a “man filled with faith and the holy Spirit” who was chosen to serve widows in their community who were being neglected. They needed to be fed and cared for. Moreover, the community needed to show consistency in its love for all believers, rather than preferring one people group over another.
Although part of the rationale for this appointed service seemed to be the need to free the apostles for prayer and ministry, the assignment turned out to be quite a significant ministry in itself. Later, we learn that Stephen was “working wonders and great signs among the people.” (v. 8). It may seem odd to associate miraculous events with people chosen to “serve at table,” but genuine encounters with God often occur in the midst of meeting basic human needs. Unfortunately, we often don’t immediately perceive the significance of these encounters.
One such encounter occurred when I was just a teenager. My mother, who is exceptionally good at serving others, used to visit an elderly woman named Alma. She would take along some flowers or vegetables from her garden, or perhaps something she baked. (My mother is also a wonderful baker!) I knew nothing about all of this – until one day Mom took me along with her. I quickly realized that Alma could no longer speak, she could only babble. Mom later explained that she had suffered a stroke, which affected her ability to verbalize. That made no difference to Mom, as she would listen and try to communicate with her. I could see the joy in Alma’s eyes as Mom shared time with her.
This small kind act left a lasting impression, which has grown in significance over time. As a youngster, we don’t understand that the broken and unlovely body contains a beautiful soul, which still has love and life to share and much to teach us. We lack the knowledge and experience to appreciate these things. Perhaps some widows that Stephen served were like Alma. And perhaps they also ministered to Stephen, enabling him to experience grace and power from God to work wonders in their midst. We would all do well to remember that kindness rooted in God’s love is can also be a wonder to behold.
The passage from John’s Gospel also reflects the wonder of the presence of Jesus, who appears to the disciples by walking on the water. Like the disciples, we can sometimes find ourselves fretful over our circumstances. Having Jesus with them was a great comfort. Bringing Jesus to others, like my mom did with Alma, was also an important and visible manifestation of Jesus’ presence and its impact on others.
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