The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.
Acts 4: 32-5
Today’s description of the earliest community of believers affords us an insight into the prerequisite for experiencing and witnessing to the life of the Risen Lord. The Lord is known in the experience of true community, in being of one heart and mind with others, and the resurrection is made manifest to the world through the love of the members of the community for each other.
Eternal life, the life of the Risen Lord, is a life in community. The resurrection appearances make clear that Jesus is recognized when he appears among those who are gathered in wait for him. In this reading from Acts, however, we see that this waiting together is a very active waiting, one in which each member of the community is dedicated to the service of the Lord by her or his care for the other. As St. Paul writes to the Philippians: “My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognize what is best.” (Philippians 1: 9) It is our ever increasing love for each other that is the source of our ability to “recognize what is best” including the modes of presence of Jesus in our midst.
The love we are called to have for each other, however, is not primarily affective. It is rather the developing of a core life disposition that, again in the words of Paul to the Philippians, strives to “always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interest instead.” (Phil 2: 3)
There can be no community where each person is not striving to think first of the interests of the others. The community described in Acts was one in which “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.” The great obstacle to love of others and life in the Spirit is our insatiable need to have and to possess what is ours: our money, our possessions, our personal gifts, our recognition by others. At every social level, at least in the secularized West, we experience what seems to be the impossibility of community. According to a Gallup Poll, in 1980 twelve percent of high school seniors viewed themselves as “very important” but by 2005 eighty percent did so. Thinking of the interests of others over our own is a value that seems to be disappearing for us, and, if so, perhaps this is why community seems more and more an impossibility for us.
Community is not “fellow feeling” but rather a commitment to becoming more and more of “one heart and mind.” The requirement for this is dispossession of everything, material and spiritual, that we hold on to in order to build an illusory life and identity of our own making. A community will be vibrant in spirit to the degree that each member cultivates the spirit of Acts 4: 32: “. . . no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” The call to poverty, in the sense of claiming nothing as one’s own, is a call to transformation in Christ. It is only in in releasing all, our money, our goods, our time, our very lives as we sense them, that the Risen Lord, who is common to all, can be revealed in and through us as a “community of believers.”
When the soul frees itself of all things and attains to emptiness and dispossession concerning them, which is equivalent to what it can do of itself, it is impossible that God fail to do his part by communicating himself to it, at least silently and secretly. It is more impossible than it would be for the sun not to shine on clear and uncluttered ground. As the sun rises in the morning and shines on your house so that its light may enter if you open the shutters, so God, who in watching over Israel does not doze (Ps. 121: 4) or, still less, sleep, will enter the soul that is empty and fill it with divine goods.
John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, Stanza 3, 46