No one was more surprised than me when the conversation at the breakfast table in the restaurant began with “Well, who do you think the first Christian was?” You see, the priest asked that question at mass this morning. The mass was dedicated to the Baptism of Jesus on the Church calendar, so naturally the priest talked about the sacrament and the event in the Jordan. He took the conversation one-step further, though, and discussed some possibilities about who the first Christian might have been. He hoped the question would provoke conversation beyond the handshakes at the end of mass. For our family, his question was a success.
Never before have I been able to engage anyone in my family in this kind of discussion. My mother has been engaging in bible study courses for a couple of years now. My sister has been through her own journey of faith with the loss of her husband and our friend two years ago. My wife has been reading and studying scripture for three years come this April. However, no one, and especially not any of these three, would ever attempt to engage with me in any of the simplest conversations I might try to start. Consequently, I started into a Master’s course of study in theology just to satisfy my own curiosity and conversation. OK, Father, how is it you moved this conversation forward? Or, should I just attribute the movement to the Holy Spirit working through you to open curiosity in them?
Now, it’s not about whether there is any theological proof coming out of this conversation that will cause trembling within the earth and result in new insights that will suddenly bring about the apocalypse. The Spirit doesn’t work this way. This conversation is about getting those of us who profess Christians talking again about our faith. At Scrambler Marie’s in Findlay Ohio this Sunday morning, Father Mike Hohenbrink had moved people to talk together after mass. Here are the three theories that came about through the conversation.
My wife spoke first. She states Mary was the first Christian. She was the first one to know Jesus was coming and by her acceptance of her part in Salvation history her faith was placed in God and her commitment made her the first to believe in her Son’s mission. I supported her thoughts, pointing out it was Mary who brought Jesus to the point of producing his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Though He protested, he followed her urging and turned water into the best wine of the feast. My wife was happy with that. Then, I must have crossed a line. I pointed out one could not fully comprehend the decision without having known of the resurrection and ascension. One could not take action to demonstrate faith in Jesus’ message without having witnessed these two events. Her protest was immediate! “If you think giving birth isn’t an action of faith you have another think coming! I stood, rather sat, corrected as I laughed. At a table filled with women, there was nothing else to say… and be safe!
Conversation turned to some of the suggestions Father had received at an earlier mass. Someone suggested Able was the first. Another Abraham. Several of the apostles were mentioned, especially Peter and Paul. John the Baptist figured into the conversation. Jesus’ cousin and the new Elijah, he knew of Jesus’ mission. Acts of the Apostles tells us the word ‘Christian’ was first used in Antioch. I raised the argument Paul makes in Romans that Abraham was the first to act on faith and his action resulted in a covenant that created the nation of Israel. Paul’s argument was to confirm that Israel as a nation was still the chosen people of God, and that the Hellenists he was talking to were grafts onto the vine of the new Chosen People through Jesus Christ. My wife said she would never argue with Paul, but her choice is still Mary.
My thoughts still go with two considerations. Those who were the ‘first’ Christians had to have witnessed or known of the crucifixion and resurrection and then make an act of faith to demonstrate that faith. It was at Pentecost that the first Christians made their profession through action. Peter and the other ten, with Mary and others present, stepped onto a balcony and spoke the words of salvation to thousands of Jews from around the world. That day is the day I think the first Christian were revealed, even if it would be years until the term was used in Antioch.
Today, though, other Christian were talking about salvation history, from the second generation recorded in the Pentateuch through Abraham, our Father-in-Faith, to Mary’s commitment to the Incarnation of the Word, through Paul the Apostle and the bringing of the Word to the Hellenist world, we laughed and talked, oblivious to those around us. Who knows who else overheard our conversation and may have wondered themselves about the events we were discussing. We’ll never know. Just as we’ll never know who the very first Christian was. The Spirit was working through our parish this morning, and now the Spirit is working through you. The new Evangelization has begun.