Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven
and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and he said,
“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man
standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears,
and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:55-58)
Our joy sure did not seem to last long, did it. Yesterday, we celebrated the birth of the Christ-Child, the Prince of Peace. Today, we remember the first martyr of the Church, St. Stephen.
Jesus told His disciples that His words would bring division, that even families would find themselves divided among each other. As always, Jesus was 100% correct.
Stephen was proclaiming the Good News to the people. Saul, later to become known as St. Paul, was in town with the express purpose of arresting anyone who claimed to be Christian. His purpose was to put down Christianity because Saul truly believed that it was an aberration and was a danger and threat to the Jews.
Stephen certainly did not hold the same position. He firmly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that Jesus had commissioned His followers to continue His mission after His death, resurrection, and ascension. Stephen was doing exactly what Jesus had asked of all of His followers.
As the debate between Stephen and the locals because more and more vocal, Stephen declared that he saw Jesus in the clouds above. This was more than the crowds could take. They covered their ears — so that they would not hear the “blasphemy” that they believed Stephen was proclaiming — and rushed Stephen. When they came up to him, they dragged him out of town and stoned him to death.
Saul was present presumably organizing the persecution and authorizing the stoning. Stephen’s demeanor never changed. He even spoke words similar to those Jesus spoke before His own death: “Do not hold this sin against them”. Forgiveness is a hallmark of the life of a Christian.
We have been called to proclaim the Good News. Sometimes it will be easily accepted. Sometimes it may be met with a fair amount of opposition. Still other times, it may lead to our death. Yet proclaim it, we must.
FAITH ACTION: Pray for those who are persecuted for proclaiming the Good News, that they have the courage of the martyrs and hold firm to the very end.