Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always oppose the Holy Spirit;
you are just like your ancestors.
Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one,
whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.
You received the law as transmitted by angels,
but you did not observe it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
Yesterday I wrote about St. Stephen’s being arrested and brought to trial. His actions and words got him into a lot of trouble. The beginning of the first reading at Mass this morning is certainly not taken from a book on how to win friends and influence people. Stephen was rather terse and direct with the people. He wanted them to hear God’s word and to obey it. That was what bothered him the most, their not obeying God.
As the reading unfolds, we hear of Stephen claiming to see the Son of Man. The people rushed to him, dragged him outside, and stoned him to death while laying their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Saul was there with official court documents giving him the power to arrest and prosecute anybody whom he suspected of being Christian. Saul was very set in his mission. He believed that Christianity was an evil that he wanted to root out of his society and he did it with a vengeance. Everyone knew that.
I am sure that Saul probably saw a lot of Christians act heroically as he persecuted them. He probably saw a lot of cowards as well, people who would reject the name of Jesus so that they could live. Saul met his match in Stephen, though.
As Stephen lay dying, Saul and the others could hear Stephen asked God to forgive his tormentors and his murderers just as Jesus had done from the cross. That would mark Saul. Shortly after that, Saul would encounter the Lord on the way to Damascus and become a changed person. So much so, that he would even change his name to Paul.
Stephen, I am sure, leaped with joy in heaven when he saw Paul’s conversion. That was all Stephen wanted: someone to listen to the word of God as delivered through His people.
FAITH ACTION: Do you know any “prophet” today, someone who brings you the Word of God? Are you uncomfortable around that person? Do you tend to shy away, even persecute that person? How about taking the time to listen to that person’s message today and see if you can discern the Lord speaking to you?