The following is a reflection Sister Janet M. Peterworth, Ursuline Sisters of Louisville President, gave at the missioning ceremony for the Ursuline Sisters and Associates on July 21, 2019. She refers to Lydia from the Acts of the Apostles, who is depicted in this image by Mary Lou Sleevi.
A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.
“Great idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”
“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a donation, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”
You know Jesus did not become a human being just to make a donation to humanity, He came to make a total commitment…such a total commitment…that He laid down His life for us.
And so here’s another story:
One day a young woman was walking home from work when she saw a little girl standing on the street corner, begging. The little girl’s clothes were paper thin and dirty, her hair matted and unclean, and her cheeks red from the cold.
The young woman dropped a few coins in the begging bowl, gave the girl a smile and walked on. As she walked, she started to feel guilty. How could she go home to her warm house with its full pantry and well supplied wardrobe while this little girl shivered on the street.
And then the young woman’s guilt turned to anger. She found herself angry with God. She let her feeling be known in a prayer of protest. “God, how can you let this sort of thing happen? Why don’t you do something to help this girl?”
And then, to her surprise God answered. And God said, “I did do something. I created you.”
So there you have it. The Master disciple who was totally committed and us who were created to follow in His footsteps and are being called to total commitment as well. Gospel people…women and men disciples all. A Gospel community imbued with the spirit of a 16th century Gospel woman, a saint of the church who in the brief moment of her life gave the Church her gift of a way of life…not a ministry, but a way of life. She gave this to anyone who would want to embrace it. Women or men, rich or poor, in the Roman church or in another manifestation of church, vowed followers or covenanted followers…disciples all.
Look at the card you have been given. This is a stylized picture of Lydia and her community in Phillipi. Remember Lydia? She was the only person in Philippi who was called by name in Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Macedonia. The only person…a woman! Of course, Lydia lived long before Angela, but Angela, Lydia and other women like her were not at the margins of the Jesus’ movement. When Paul first arrived in Philippi he found no synagogue, but he found a group of women in a prayer group—the local church…and he joined them in prayer and spoke to them of Jesus. Lydia, a trader in purple cloth and a business woman, was their leader.
These women were not silent in the churches or ineffective in evangelism. They cared for local congregations and were vital and strategic players at the forefront of the expanding Christian mission. Scripture scholars tell us that a church was established in Philippi because of Lydia’s open heart and her open home (Paul and his friends stayed there), and it grew because of her patronage, her initiative, her courage, her ministry. Lydia may have been a patron of the Jewish community at Philippi. It is likely she became both a patron and a leader of the new Christian church there. It is likely that she led the new Christian ritual of breaking bread around her house table. That is what your picture represents: the early church in Philippi—disciples all. The Orthodox Churches have given her the title of “Equal to the Apostles,” which signifies her importance and level of holiness.
And now I want take the liberty to pose a few questions that we can ask ourselves as we look at this picture of Lydia and her church.
- How am I doing at being church?
- How Am I doing at using my gifts and abilities as Lydia did?
- How am I doing what I can, where I am?
- How am I listening to God’s word in such a way (as Angela did) that I am willing to take the next step on my spiritual journey?
- How am I doing at opening my heart and all that I have (as Lydia and Angela did) to be a disciple of Jesus.
- How am I doing at being willing to walk in their footsteps as a totally committed disciple?
As you look at this picture throughout this year remember Lydia, the disciple…the one equal to the apostles…the one who served the people of her city as a leader, a God worshipper. And remember that we are being sent to be disciples ourselves…not just to make a donation, but to make a total commitment.