December 26, 2014
Dennis Hamm, S.J.

Creighton's Department of Theology 
click here for photo and information about the writer

Feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr
Lectionary: 696

Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59
Psalm 31:3cd-4, 6 and 8ab, 16bc and 17
Matthew 10:17-22

Celebrating Christmas

Daily Christmas Prayer

In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells the story of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, in a way that deliberately highlights the parallels between the passion and death of Jesus and the “trial” and death of Stephen.

  • Both Jesus and Stephen were accused by false witnesses before the Sanhedrin.
  • Both were falsely accused of threatening the temple.
  • Like his Master, Stephen was taken out of the city to be killed—Jesus by Roman crucifixion, Stephen by Jewish stoning.
  • Like Jesus, Stephen surrenders his spirit to his Lord—Jesus to God the Father, Stephen to the Lord Jesus (“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” Acts 8:59). If anyone is searching for clear statements in the Synoptic writers regarding Jesus’ divinity, Stephen’s prayer is surely one of those texts (as Jesus prayed to the Father, Stephen prays to the risen Jesus).
  • And just as Jesus prayed that his killers be forgiven: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a), Stephen also prays in a similar way, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 8:60). Given that Stephen’s previous prayer addressed “Lord Jesus,” “Lord” in this prayer is probably to be heard as addressed to the risen Jesus as well.

The way Luke highlights these parallels between the deaths of Jesus and Stephen is surely meant to help us understand that a follower of Jesus will, one way or another, imitate the life and death (and ultimately, resurrection) of Jesus. This is not meant to scare us but rather to help us realize that the rejections that we experience in our efforts to carry out Jesus’ mission need not surprise us nor daunt us; for we are sustained by the Father and the risen Lord Jesus. They empower us not only to endure but even to forgive. And notice that neither Jesus nor Steven simply says, “It’s OK. I forgive you.” They both pray that God will forgive their enemies. That’s a helpful thing to remember the next time we find it hard to forgive someone who has rejected us. Most importantly, we look forward to share Jesus’ risen life in the world to come.

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