Since the day of the Feast of Pentecost, when Peter began to speak openly of the Kingdom of God right in the very heart of Jerusalem, life for us in the group had changed. In a few weeks, we spread ourselves through the barrios of the capital and the other cities of Judea to continue what Jesus had started, to make known to our compatriots the Good News that Jesus was alive and with us, keeping our spirits high in our fight for justice, giving us the strength of his Spirit, that we might accomplish things greater than even he himself had done…
John: Well, Thomas, let’s see if that tongue of yours loosens up in Jericho! Good luck, buddy!
Peter: Much luck to you in Shiloh!…. Visit us every now and then, and tell us about the group!
Philip: Hey, we’ve forgotten about the Samaritans. Who’s gonna work with them?
John: You’re late, as always, Philip. Matthew and Andrew are now saddling the mules for their journey to Samaria…
Philip: Okay. So this is moving…. We’ll cast the nets in the north and south, in the east and west…!
Peter: And in Jerusalem, where the big fish are. The stronger fisher¬men will stay…!
John: You’re a show-off, Peter…! Not even the Most Holy Spirit can change you!
Those of us who remained in Jerusalem with Mary, Jesus’ mother, the Magdalene and the other women, wanted to gather a few neighbors from the barrio and start from there, as Jesus had done, in forming our group in Galilee. One afternoon, Peter and I were talking to a handful of people at the Gate of Solomon, facing the Temple’s esplanade, when some soldiers came….
A Soldier: You dirty pigs!… Get out of here! Out!… We’ve had enough troublemakers in Jerusalem! And much more, a plague of Galileans!… Out!… Out of here!
The Temple guards, furious, with their swords unsheathed, dispersed the group in one second, laying their hands on us. Peter and I spent that night in jail…
Peter: Are you scared, John?
John: Yes… but I’m hiding it!…. And you?
Peter: Me?… Hmmm…. If I come face to face with these men, I…. I’ll take a deep breath thrice and…!
John: And what…?
Peter: And then, I’ll tell it to their faces, damn it! Jesus himself, was here not long ago, and he, too, told the stark truth to their faces, remember? Well, we’ve got to do the same, John….
The following day, we were brought before old Annas and his son-in-law, Caiphas, the high priest who had sentenced Jesus…. With them were a certain John and a certain Alexander, also of the Beth family, the wealthiest people in the capital, and other advisers of the Sanhedrin…
Caiphas: Tell me, you liars, under what authority do you gather the people and feed them with nothing but lies, huh?…
Caiphas tried to hide his fury but in vain….
Caiphas: We’ve been keeping an eye on you, agitators of the people, good for nothing fishermen, trash of Capernaum, did you know that?… We know a lot about you and your plans!… C’mon, answer me? Who authorized you to stir up the ignorant people!
Peter: Are you asking us?… First, we shall have to ask you in the name of all the poor of Israel, by what authority did you sentence Jesus of Nazareth to death?…
Magistrate: What an insolent Galilean! How dare you speak that way to the high priest?
Peter bit his lips, but he continued….
Peter: You crucified Jesus, but you didn’t get away with it, because God raised him from the dead. He is alive, do you hear? Jesus is alive! And we are witnesses to this!
Caiphas: Charlatan! What a crazy man, indeed! Ha, ha, ha…!
John: No, Peter isn’t out of his mind. Neither am I, nor anyone of those who heard the Good News of Jesus. You are the crazy ones, because you got rid of him like a piece of rejected stone. But God chose him to be a cornerstone, you must know that!
Caiphas: Damn, get these foul mouths out of my sight right away! Give them some lashings, to teach them a lesson!
Four soldiers pushed us out of the hall and put us in jail in the basement. Caiphas and the magistrates were left pondering and troubled….
Another Magistrate: We’ve got to do something with this mob, your excellency. They’re not only wretched like the devil, but they’re also stubborn like camels…. Well, they’re not Galileans for nothing!
Magistrate: Well, as they say – and I fully agree – like father, like son. They are as rebellious as that damned Nazarene, don’t you think, your excellency?
Magistrate: What is worse is that, for sometime now, people follow them everywhere, your excellency….
Caiphas: “Your excellency, your excellency!”…. Isn’t there anything you can say but this nonsense?… Imbeciles! So we haven’t settled this matter once and for all! It was not enough that we got rid of the mad dog, because the rabies is still there…! We will have them all crucified! That Pilate passes the buck to me for all these street riots makes me sick!
Annas: Now, now, take it easy, my dear son-in-law, this is nothing… These rascals were emboldened by their prophet’s gimmick that he is alive… But they are made of weak stuff…. We’ll scare them a little…. In the meantime, some nice lashings to warm them up will do… and later, you will see how this will cool off their heads, and even discipline their tongues….
After the whippings, we were brought once again to the hall of Great Counsel…
Caiphas: Listen well, Galileans: this Tribunal strictly prohibits you from talking in the streets about this Jesus, who was crucified for the crime of rebellion in the highest order. Is that clear?
Peter: No, it’s not.
Caiphas: And what is not clear, damn you?! This Tribunal speaks in the name of the Living God!
Peter: No, this tribunal speaks in the name of all your interests. The Living God has nothing to do with this!
John: Go on with your prohibitions! We shall obey only God rather than men like you.
They had the money, they had the power, but indeed, they were also scared that the people would rise against them if they did something to us… That is why they set us free that morning. It was the Spirit of Jesus who gave us strength before the Tribunal, and to counteract those whippings from our executioners. Peter and I came out of it with our backs almost torn to pieces, but contented, for having been able to stand up for the Kingdom of God…
Mary: Tell us, tell us, what else did they say…?
In Mark’s house, the women and the rest of the group were waiting for us impatiently…
Peter: You know what they told us, Mary? Look….
Peter: So, that’s it!
Susana: Poor guys… and look at this back of yours, heavens…!
Mary: This won’t heal by our compassion alone. Hey Susana, let’s go get some pieces of raw meat to cover their wounds with….
Philip: And what did you do?
John: What ought to be done. We accused them. We told them to their faces that they killed Jesus, but that the matter is not all over yet…
Philip: Then, what?
John: Nothing…. Those arrogant fools wouldn’t listen at all. They are deaf…
Susana: Well, it’s always like this at the start. But later, God will enlighten their minds…
Peter: Whose minds? Those of the moneybags of the Sanhedrin?… No way, Susana, don’t pin your hopes too high. I think these people are so dense, they won’t listen to the truth no matter how you shout it out to them. And worse than a deaf person is one who simply refuses to hear.
Susana: That’s not the way to talk, Peter… After all, they hold the reins of power…. If they refuse to be converted and soften up a little, then we’re doomed…
John: Indeed we would be if we just sit and wait for them to have everything crammed into our throats. Don’t be so naive, Susana. Look, have you ever seen a house where the roof is placed before the foundation? Never, right? Have you ever seen a tree growing from the top down to the roots?
John: Well then, neither will you see that things should change from the top.
Mary: Okay, go to the point then. Didn’t we say that some have less while others have more? And that all of us are equal in the Kingdom of God?…
So, let’s all put together everything we have…. money and things…. and see what happens!
Peter: Mary is right. Let’s begin right here, with this group. And let those from Barrio Ophel do the same, where there are lots of widows and orphans… Then we’ll ask the group with James to do the same, as well as those with this young woman, Lydia…. Nothing will belong to anyone, but everything will belong to everyone…
It was during these times that we realized that if we put everything in common, then the problems began to find some solutions. This practice took root soon enough among the small groups that were being formed in Jerusalem. The common life of sharing, of not keeping anything as our own, became the sign that we were promoting the cause of Jesus. Thus, the first communities were born…. No one became a member without sharing all his or her possessions with the rest…
Barnabas: Look, my friends, I sold my land along the road to Japhia. The deal was good. This is what I got.
That was Joseph Barnabas, a Levite from the Island of Cyprus, who soon joined the group and in time, worked for the spread of the gospel….
A Widow: Oh, my children, I am a poor widow, with little money, since my old husband left me with a few savings to get me through… But why should I keep them somewhere when there are several needy persons around…?
She was Naomi, rendered old by age, but always with a big heart….
Stephen: Brothers! You know what?… At last I got a job in Jason’s shop, the tanner, remember?… The pay is not much, but at least, I won’t be a loafer here…. Now, I’ll have a little something to share with the group!
That was Stephen, a good-looking young man, who started sharing his wage and his time for the cause of Jesus, and who, one day, ended up giving up even his life…. Every time, more and more joined the community…. They were men and women of the town who bore years and years of suffering and hope on their shoulders, but were decided to fight and to share. It was difficult, yes… and we had a hard time trying to get used to not saying mine nor yours, but ours. That was indeed a miracle, because we were doing it and we were happy. The Kingdom of God was beginning to gain way in small groups where no one was wanting, no one was hungry, because everything was for everyone…. And together, we rejoiced….
Peter: Father, like the grains of wheat sown on the field to form one bread, gather us all together, the poor of the earth, unite us that we may be strong, bring us close to you that together, we may build the Kingdom of God You promised to us through Jesus, Your Son, our great Redeemer!
All: Good, good! Amen, amen!
On the first day of the week, we would gather in the houses of our companions. Together we prayed to God, the Father of Jesus, and ate together. In the middle of the meal, we broke bread, to give thanks to God for a lot of things… And our numbers increased in the barrios and in the streets and in all corners of the city, like the rising tide, like the bread in ferment. There were many of us, so many of us, but we had only one heart and one soul.
Caiphas: What’s this?… A plague… leprosy… fever?… We’ll have to get rid of these mad men once and for all… or they will end up with us…! We still have time!
Gamaliel: Your excellency and colleagues from the Sanhedrin, you must practice prudence in what you have to do. Sometime ago, Theudas stood up, claiming to be the Liberator, and about four hundred men followed him. But he was killed and all his followers were dispersed and that was the end of it. The same thing happened to that other Galilean rebel, remember?… Leave the followers of Jesus alone… Don’t get in their way. If this matter is of men, then it will come to an end. But if this is of God, we will not be able to destroy it…
And since the matter of Jesus was of God, it moved on. That little mustard seed that the Moreno had sown in Galilee, by the riverbank, grew up, took roots in Jerusalem and spread its branches all over Israel….
The first Christian communities were formed in Jerusalem, shortly after the events of the Passover. They were composed of Jesus’ disciples, the men and women from Galilee or from Judea who had known and followed him in his life, and the other Israelites and some foreigners who came close to the groups and integrated with them. For the “outsiders,” what was more striking with these groups was their communitarian spirit. Faithful to the gospel of Jesus, the community’s norm of living was sharing.
The first communities shared the common mission of spreading to the other cities of the land the good news of the resurrection. They shared the faith and the hope that Jesus had bequeathed to them. But, what was most important was the sharing of their possessions. The first Christians gave their money, their lands, the fruits of their harvest, their houses, and their wages to the service of the community. “See how they love one another,” was the observation of others, who were amazed with the style of communitarian life. Love and charity were translated into living a common life of sharing: “See how they share.” From then on, even after two thousand years, sharing everything that one has with his brothers and sisters shall always be a gesture of great love and, and therefore, the best proof of one’s fidelity to the message of Jesus.
Those first communities became the “base,” in the sense that those belonging to the “bottom” strata of society were integrated into them. Those who followed Jesus during his life were the poor people of Israel, because for them, his message was the good news of the Kingdom. The members of the first communities continued to be poor. Likewise, from its beginnings and during the first centuries of Christianity, to speak of the Christian faith was synonymous to speaking of persecutions. Right from the start, the very same priests who had judged and condemned Jesus to death, persecuted the apostles. The first communities had serious problems with Jewish religious institutions and as the former grew more and more, the persecutions likewise multiplied. Most of the disciples were killed, like Jesus, and during the first three centuries, there were thousands of martyred men and women from those groups, starting with the first of these martyrs, Stephen, a deacon who belonged to the community of Jerusalem (Acts 7:1-60; 8:1-3). These persecutions were proofs that the disciples continued with the way of Jesus and that they were faithful to the gospel.
The first Christians met to celebrate their faith and hope in the Eucharist. In these meetings, they reenacted not only the last supper of the Passover but all those communitarian meals partaken with Jesus in the fields of Galilee and the barrios of Jerusalem. These celebrations were not called “Eucharist,” much less “Mass” then, but “the breaking of the bread.” This expression tells us that they met to eat together at a common table remembering what Jesus had taught them about sharing. All meals in Israel rightfully started with this gesture of breaking bread, performed by the head of the family or whoever presided over the meal. Bread was never sliced with a knife; rather, it was broken and distributed to all in a gesture of friendship and unity.
The first celebrations of the “breaking of the bread” (of the Eucharist) were not ritualistic meetings in a temple. There were no temples then. The communities met alternately in the houses of some members. These were, therefore, domestic celebrations, where the members partook of family food, during which they experienced the presence of the resurrected Jesus. The texts of the Acts of the Apostles and some ancient documents show that the small “structure” of these reunions would more or less be like this: The assembly started when one of the disciples or missionaries shared with everyone what he had done during those days (problems that were encountered, trips, projects, needs of the orphans and widows, creation of new communities, etc.). Then, the greeting followed – the “kiss of peace” (1 P 5:14) – with which the community meal started, in the middle of which the Eucharistic Bread was shared with everyone. This ended with the communal singing of psalms and prayers. If a letter from one of the apostles from the field had arrived, this would be read in community. Some of these letters are preserved in the Bible: from John, Peter, James, Judas Thaddeus and several letters from Paul. All participants in these celebrations knew each other well, shared in the problems of the rests and felt their involvement in the same project. All these made these meetings very much alive, giving them a profound sense of communion in that Eucharist. To go back to the origins of the Christian faith – in the celebration, in the community of possessions and in the preference for the poor – is to grow in fidelity to Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
(Acts 2:42-47; 4:1-22 and 32:37; 5:28)