I am struck that on December 26th, the day after Christmas, we celebrate the death of St. Stephen, the first martyr for Christ. On Christmas day we lovingly receive the goodness of the Child Jesus born to Mary and Joseph in the humblest of surroundings at Bethlehem. We know there is so much more to the story of Jesus than the wonder and awe of the Christmas scene, yet we gladly let ourselves be immersed in the simplicity and beauty of Bethlehem.
Then today as we honor St. Stephen our focus shifts from the magical beauty of Bethlehem to the struggles of the earliest Christian community and their everyday concerns. How was life then? And what would be the implications of following Christ in faith? The section from the Acts of the Apostles in today’s first reading presents us with a slice of that life. St. Stephen’s story highlights one aspect of that life: when we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, there is a chance that we will follow him even to His cross.
In today’s gospel from St. Matthew Jesus tells the disciples that they will be handed over to the authorities and be treated as He himself was treated: facing misunderstanding, rejected by people, mocked, not being heard, and (possibly) being put to death as a result of their beliefs and actions. “You will be hated by all because of my name.” The first martyr, Stephen, like Jesus, is condemned and stoned to death for “working great wonders among the people.” And so, Stephen putting his life on the line for his faith in Jesus, cried out at the end, “Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Most of us today are spared the ultimate struggle that Stephen was led to in his imitation of his Lord. But there is a lesson for us here as we contemplate Stephen’s gift of witnessing even to his death. Even though we may not be called to the shedding of our blood in witness to our faith in Jesus, we are invited to “pour out our lives” in imitation of Jesus.
What a challenge that is. Each time we hear in the very center of the Eucharistic prayer, “do this in memory of me,” we hear the call to live our lives on the pattern of Jesus; as he gave himself over in service of others, so are we to give of ourselves to others. Pouring ourselves out in service of others is becomes the key to our imitation of Christ.
And so we are led to pray today: Lord, keep us faithful to our call to witness to your life, death and resurrection through service of others. Let that witnessing be centered on your goodness as that is expressed in the everyday occurrences of your life and in ours as disciples. Open us to your spirit as Stephen was as he gave himself over to you with his very life.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook