Daily Reflection
April 8th, 2008

Edward Morse

School of Law
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Today’s scriptures provide a reminder to be careful about anger and judgment, which can get in the way of enjoying the sustaining power of the Bread of Life.

The excerpt from Stephen’s testimony before the religious leaders (which we begin to read in Acts 7:51), seems rather harsh to our ears. Stephen is on trial, but he seems to turn the tables and give a reproof to those who are judging him. This reproof is not devoid of a foundation, as the preceding verses rehearse a history that is not so flattering. That history was familiar to all, but it is vexing nevertheless to be told you are perpetuating the errors of the past.

Reproof can sometimes lead to repentance; in this case it brought rejection and rage. Sadly, Stephen’s account of a vision of Jesus reigning in Heaven triggers a violent reaction. Stephen apparently thought everyone could see it, too, as he told them to “behold” (or “look”, v. 56). Perhaps they felt vindicated in stoning Stephen, as they did not see the world as Stephen did. This much of the story seems so familiar, since it is not unprecedented to have people resist agents of change.

Whether one rejects or embraces Jesus is mysterious. Throughout Holy Week, I found myself puzzling over Judas. Judas heard Jesus teach and witnessed his miracles, including raising the dead and healing the sick – all pretty fantastic stuff. These experiences should have provided amply for Judas to build a foundation for faith, but ultimately Judas still betrayed Jesus. He had great remorse for doing so, but this guilt came too late, after he had already memorialized himself as a betrayer.

Paul, who stands on the sidelines in this story about Stephen’s martyrdom, is introduced in Acts 8:1 as one who consents to, and apparently approves of, Stephen’s death. At this time, he also did not see the world as Stephen did. However, we know that Paul will have his own encounter with Jesus, leading him to faith in the risen Lord.

The most remarkable and unfamiliar aspect of Stephen’s story is his response to the familiar violence from the crowd. Stephen chose to pray for God’s mercy upon those killing him, which is rare indeed. Of course, it resembles Jesus’ own reaction to those who unjustly condemned him. But it seems so far from my own natural tendencies, which instead would want to be proven right, then and there! Fortunately, that was not Jesus’ way, and it was not Stephen’s way, either.

Regrettably, through the ages some have taken Stephen’s reproof as a basis for discrimination and harm toward those who do not embrace Jesus as Messiah. This is a monstrous distortion of the message. We all share in the common failings of humanity known as sin. It is tragic that our own sinfulness causes such blindness. What causes us to believe that blaming others somehow makes us less culpable? It is like we have all been given a wonderful mansion, which we proceed to vandalize and burn to the ground. When the Master asks what happened, wouldn’t we sound silly to single out someone for breaking a window, when the whole house lies in ruin? This puzzling behavior goes all the way back to Eden, yet it persists in our behavior and thinking.

The real challenge is to consider Stephen’s imitation of Christ in his plea for mercy on behalf of others. We are reminded of the importance of showing mercy in our Lord’s Prayer, and that we need such mercy ourselves for other things. The Bread of Life can indeed sustain us, but we must be careful that our own anger and judgment do not get in the way and block this sustaining nourishment. May God save us from that error, and forgive us for our past mistakes. Lord, help us to always seek out your mercy for ourselves, and yes, even for those who don’t see the world as we do.

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