“But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56)
Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22) Year after year, I never cease to wonder why the feast of St. Stephen is placed side by side with Christmas. What a sharp contrast! Just hours after celebrating the birth of Jesus, here we are talking about the stoning of a man to death.
Our morning prayer today says: “Grant Lord, we pray that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray for his persecutors.” That is to say, today’s feast is in the spirit of our birthday celebrations; yesterday was that of Jesus and today is St. Stephen.
What was Stephen’s offence that led to his stoning? A false accusation by persons who tried but could not defeat him in mere theological arguments. Stephen’s death was fuelled by envy and jealousy, inspired by lies against him and orchestrated by ignorance from a mob who could not stand it when Stephen revealed his vision of heaven with Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
What is so unique about St. Stephen is that even while he was being stoned to death, he refused to allow bitterness and hatred to becloud his mind. By the example of his death, St. Stephen imitated Jesus Christ who while on the cross prayed for his persecutors: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34.
Our celebration of St. Stephen just a day after Christmas is a sharp reminder that Christmas is not all about eating and drinking. It is a celebration of the SACRIFICIAL LOVE of God for us. If God so loved us, we too must love one another. If God so loved us even when we were His enemies due to our sinfulness, we too must love our enemies; we must love those who persecute us, we must pray for them and ask God to forgive them even when we keep receiving their stones.
We may have spent time yesterday with the special persons in our lives. We have invited our close friends and family members, and we have shared food, clothes, drinks, and even money with our loved ones. Today, still in the spirit of Christmas, we are invited to become like St. Stephen; to pray for and show love to those who hate us.
In our Gospel passage today, Jesus says: “Beware of men…” People can be very wicked, heartless, and cruel. By saying we must beware of men, Jesus is not saying we should avoid all human company, He wants us to be wise in our dealings with others and to expect the worst especially when we stand for God.
However, the last line of our Gospel passage contains a message of hope: “He who endures to the end will be saved.” No matter how bad people are to you, don’t give up on God, and don’t give up on goodness even when things become tough, salvation awaits ahead.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, grant me the courage of Saint Stephen. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59, Ps. 31:3-4,6,8,16-17, Matthew 10:17-22)*
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu