In the first reading, we have a similar situation. Stephen, a man of God, was preaching to the people, dishing out some good old fashioned humble pie. They were infuriated. But then when Stephen mentioned seeing Jesus: that was too much for them. Like children, they “covered their ears,” then rushed him and stoned him, and set about planning his execution.
Having had a direct personal experience in the matter, I know fear when I see it. Stephen tapped into the people’s fear, and they reacted violently to protect what they had. They obviously felt threatened at a deep level, and responded to that threat by obliterating its source.
We all assume that the Good News is uplifting, calming, and assuring. But it’s a shock to us that – to some – it could also be . . . scary.
What is it that scared Stephen’s listeners? Certainly his scathing attack on their ancestry left them a bit miffed, but they did not become riled to action until Stephen mentioned seeing the “Son of Man” in the heavens standing at the right hand of God.
My suspicion is that there were many people at that time that preferred a dead Jesus to a risen one. A dead Jesus is a historical figure, an episode of the past. A risen Jesus is a continuation of the message that he preached, and a deepening of it. Now, no longer tied down to human mortality, a risen Jesus is at the same time the Truth and the verification of the Truth. He’s not just words any more: He’s proof. We cannot ignore the risen Jesus, because in His rising from the dead He has guaranteed a new world order.
So the Good News might be seen as bad news by those who find comfort in the old world order.
That’s why Stephen’s prayer that this sin not be held against them makes sense. He wasn’t forgiving them. He was recognizing their entrenched fear.
Now that Lent is over, it is still not too late to look at our own comforts. Do we find comfort in our current “world order?” Do we hold our hands over our ears (figuratively or literally) whenever someone broaches a certain subject? Maybe it’s time to admit that there are some ideas that are just plain scary to us. Knowing what those ideas are and perhaps why they scare us is the first step towards acknowledging that a risen Jesus is much better than a dead one.
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