The reading about St. Stephen brings to mind a conversation I
had with one of my teenage sons. I wanted to tell him: Do what you should
be doing and you will stay out of trouble. I realized I could not say that.
I realized that doing what you should be doing often brings trouble. I realized
that doing what you should be doing does not guarantee that someone cannot
say bad things about you or question your character. We discussed about the
importance of living a life in which we could be comfortable living with
ourselves. For Stephen two thousand years ago or for my son in his high school,
you can be filled with grace and power, you can be working great wonders
and signs, and all this may be setting the stage for your "execution."
The responsorial psalm proclaims as blessed those who follow the law of the
Lord. In its first passage, it also explicitly reminds us of the disfavor
this may bring among the men of power.
The Gospel incidentally provides a similar theme. The Bread of Life is ultimately
disdained by the authorities. I ask if I am any different than these men.
I can find myself "work(ing) for the food that perishes." The things of this
world are transient. The earthly rewards are not what matters. Still, I would
like to think that if I lead a good life, I would be fed and protected. I
would like to think good things happen to good people. I am bothered when
this is not the case. I am confused when divine reward is delayed for the
next world. I would like some sort of immediate transcendent feedback. I
have little doubt this would enhance my learning process. If I was dictating
the Scripture, I would have answered the question, "What can we do to accomplish
the works of God?" with a call to service to our fellow humans and the world
about us. I would add a promise that those who did this would be rewarded
in this world and beyond. Instead we are challenged to "believe in the one
He sent," to believe in one who was beaten and crucified. No earthly rewards
From the discussion with my son, I can understand why Mick Jagger "can't
get no satisfaction." We live in a world where we are continually tempted
by the allure of immediate gratification. Hopefully we are instead called
to live a life where our satisfaction comes from where our heart is, from
what we ultimately believe. I pray that my heart is not distracted by the
things of this world. In an attempt to allay my doubts, I join the psalmist
in the intercession "Make me understand the way of your precepts."