Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro

May 5, 2002

Sixth Sunday of Easter 2002

Acts 8, 5-8, 14-17, 1 Peter 3, 15-18, Jn 14, 15-21 Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

The Church expands into Samaria. This Sundayís text from Acts records some of the fruits of the outspoken, no compromising witness and stoning of Stephen. After his martyrdom, a great persecution came down on the Christian community in Jerusalem. Everyone was forced to go underground or get out of town, except for the Apostles. The text says they were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1)

Phillip, the apostle, went down to the town of Samaria to proclaim the way. This statement itself is a remarkable breakthrough for an Apostle. This last time an Apostle had anything to say in the Lucan narrative to a Samaritan town was in Luke 9: 51-56. Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, traveling through Samaria. Jesus sent a couple of them to a Samaritan town to see if they would welcome a visit from Jesus. Jesus and his disciples were turned away. James and John asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven onto the town.

The Samaritans and the Jews hated each other. Despite the fact they a shared a belief in the same God and claimed the same ancestors from Abraham to Moses, these two cousin clans hated each other more than their shared hatred of occupying oppressing Romans. What a difference the Resurrected Lord and the Pentecost experience can make! This breakthrough, in inclusiveness, helped set up the big breakthrough to come between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile world.

A Pattern is Set: In Acts patterns are set for church growth and church entry. With every persecution, a negative short-term experience is felt followed by a long-term growth and deepening of the faith community. People are brought into the community first through the apostolic proclamations of the faith and the working of signs, like cures and exorcisms. Then they were baptized and confirmed in the Holy Spirit.

At each point where the Church must grow, change, and move on, there is this tension and interplay between the approving Church authorities and the movement of the Holy Spirit. Luke is making a case about how the Church should be run by telling his story this way. From Lukeís point of view the Church is best served when the free and independent movement of the Holy Spirit is confirmed and approved by the apostolic authorities within the Church. The link between the movement of the Holy Spirit and the confirmation by Church authorities are inseparable. According to Luke, you canít have one without the other. The closer these two realities of Holy Spirit and Church authority remain, the healthier and more whole the Church will be. The further apart these two realities are from each other, the poorer and more diminished the Church becomes and its proclamation of Jesus distorted. The Rest of the Story: Iím always curious when the Lectionary text skips over verses in the readings. This weekís text from Acts skips over verses 8:9-13. These missing verses introduce us to a magician named Simon who lived in the town of Samaria. He was well known and respected by many people, great and small. Many believe his magic was done through the power of God. When the Apostle Philip came to town proclaiming the Lord and performing many cures and exorcisms, many people were baptized. Simon became devoted to Philip for he was astounded by Philipís powers. Acts 8: 18-25: When word of Philipís success in Samaria reached the Apostles in Jerusalem, Peter and John were sent to check it out. Seeing that Philipís new converts were only baptized, Peter and John prayed with them that they should receive the Holy Spirit, then they laid their hands on them and all received the Holy Spirit. Simon was so impressed with Peterís and Johnís power to confer the Holy Spirit, he offered to pay Peter money if he would give him this power also. Peter strongly rejected Simonís offer, making it clear that GodÕs gifts are not for sale. Peter told Simon to beg Godís forgiveness for proposing such a thing; else he will perish with his money. Simon realized he did wrong, and the segment ends with Simon asking Peter to pray to God on his behalf. Godís Gifts are Not for Sale: This story about Simon the magician reminds me of a movie saw with Steve Martin and Debra Wingert. It takes place in a rural community that was suffering a long drought. Steve Martin was the faith healer whose message was more entertainment than faith-filled. Debra Wingert worked for him. The whole operation was a scam, high tech and glitzy, complete with a Black gospel choir and fake healings. The town sheriff is one of the only people in town who sees through the lie and tries to shut down the operation. He and Debra Wingert start a romantic interest (Hollywood). Also in the town is a young boy who is crippled, the son of a waitress. The boy goes to one of the tent revival meetings and starts to believe that Steve Martin can cure him. His mother is dead set against the idea. She doesnít want to see her son hurt anymore than he already is with false promises. At the end of the movie at the last tent revival, the boy is cured. He and the whole town think that Steve Martin with the help of God made it happen. Steve Martin knows better. The boy was cured not because of his help, but in spite of his flimflam scam. In the last scene in the movie Martin and crew are heading out of town in their bus, and it starts to rain. Godís gifts are not for sale. No one can buy them, nor does anyone control them. God gives them out freely. Thatís what makes them gifts. And the greatest gift of all is life itself. Everything beyond this is a plus. People of faith realize this and try to make the best of Godís life by giving it back to God through loving our fellow human beings. Thatís the way it is supposed to work, and despite appearances to the contrary, that is the way people of faith are supposed to live their lives.

A Bad Day in the Pod: yesterday was a bad day in the pod. The night before Long Hair, a white guy who lives in a cell at the end of the floor level tier, was robbed. Someone stole his store food and radio. The next morning he confronted, Nacho, a Mexican guy he believed had something to do with it. People say that Long Hair is a snitch. He is supposed to have ratted on some Mexicans who are locked up in other pods in this jail. That word reached the Mexicans in our pod. Long Hair and Nacho had words. Long Hair went into his cell, and Nacho followed him. There was a fight. Long Hair got beat up bad, lots of bruises on his face. He stayed in his cell the whole day. After our afternoon, outdoor recreation, the whole pod was locked down. Cells were searched, and Long Hair was moved out of his pod. There wasnít much sympathy for Long Hair; nobody likes a snitch. I get along pretty well with the Mexicans, especially since I am a priest and that I gave one of them a bag of coffee last week. Tonight, Friday night is the big social night on the pod. They let us stay up until 2 a.m., and they show us a midnight movie. I never stay up for it. Everyone saves their chicken from supper, team up with a few others and make some kind of prison dish for late night eating. The Mexicans in one pod make tamales, very authentic and good, too. Iím sure to get a few. The incident with Long Hair is a vivid reminder for me that these places are not nice places. Ugly things happen. It isnít all bad either. Good things happen, too. It just isnít ever easy. There is always an edge, a tension in the air. You have to be conscious of space and territory all of the time. Itís an environment akin to an inner city junior high play ground with a very defined pecking order based on size and brute force, color, and race. Acts of kindness and compassion do happen, but always in the context of this pressure cooker environment.