Previous Easter readings established Luke’s purpose: to show the mission of Jesus continuing through the work of the early church, rapidly spreading among Jews, and finally throughout the Gentile world. As with the Church today, however, spreading the Gospel did not always go smoothly. As the Christian community grew, various needs and arising conflicts called for an organization of the ministries.
This is the case in the First Reading. As Christianity spread in the Jewish community, it incorporated people of different backgrounds. As early Christianity was not yet distinct from Judaism, Jesus’ followers were simply considered another Jewish sect. In this passage, Hellenists were Jews who only spoke Greek, while Hebrews were Jews who most commonly spoke Aramaic. Just like the modern world of today, differences in languages sometimes led to differences in treatment, and the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians protested that their widows were often ignored in the community’s distribution to the needy.
Until this point, the Twelve has served as leaders of the Christian community. However, the Hellenists’ complaint required the aid of leaders who could communicate more easily with them. The Twelve, who were focused on Proclaiming Jesus’ word, did not want to surrender this important work. Instead, they decided to delegate the responsibilities of assisting the community to others.
It is important to note that the men chosen had to meet the necessary requirements for the Christian ministry: faithful disciples “filled with the faith and the Holy Spirit”. The very first example, Stephen, was a prime example of this, as he later became a prominent leader and the very first Christian martyr. Luke concludes the reading by focusing on a repeating theme: rapid multiplication of believers in Jesus the Messiah.