Scripture: Acts 7:44-8:1a
Key verses: (54, 57) “When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen . . . and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.”
Reflection: After the deacon Stephen was arrested, he was given an opportunity to make his defense in front of the high priests. When they looked at him, scripture says, they saw his face like the face of an angel. There was something going on in Stephen through the power of the Holy Spirit, that no one could deny. Chapter seven contains one of the most beautiful summaries of the faith history of Israel given by Stephen, from Abraham through the Prophets. However, he chose to focus on the repeated rejection of God by the people which enraged those who heard him speak. A careful reading of the Old Testament stories reveals how humanity continually vacillated between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, but they didn’t want to hear about the unfaithfulness. The flow of Stephen’s argument sought to show why Jesus was rejected – like so many of the prophets before. But, the truth was more than they could bear and they chose violence to vent their anger. The elders, scribes and the Council (known as the Sanhedrin) stoned Stephen to death while he knelt praying the Lord would forgive them. As he died, the Book of Acts introduces us to Saul (who would later become the Apostle Paul) who was leading the great persecution again the church in Jerusalem. It is a chilling scene as Paul gives approval to their actions.
Today’s passage reminds me how difficult it can be to hear the truth when it doesn’t reflect positively on a person or community. We have seen this throughout history. We also experience this on a personal level when our behavior or biases are pointed out. It stings. Some people listen and seek to change; others dig in, get angry or lash out. Some believe they are in the right and seek to destroy anyone with a different message. This is what happened to Jesus, Stephen and countless other martyrs. It continues to happen in our world today. Scripture acts like a mirror showing us who we are as both faithful and unfaithful children of God. It is worth taking some time to reflect on what you are seeing as your life is reflected back to you. Are you living out the Christian life God has called you to? Are you able to admit your weaknesses and even unfaithfulness to Jesus’ message about love, forgiveness and justice? Have you become unyielding and rigid in your opinions to the point of lashing out? Take some time today to think about how you are living out your faith and return to scripture for conviction, encouragement and support.
Prayer: Loving God, we give thanks for the witness of Stephen who served the church and the message of Jesus in spite of opposition, and even death. Open our hearts and minds that we might see who we really are. Give us courage to hear the truth about ourselves so that we might be open to change and better able to share the message of Jesus Christ with others. In His name we pray. Amen.
Author: Deborah Conner
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].