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.
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.
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