26 December 2013Acts 7:51-60
“I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (v. 56)
Today, the Feast of St Stephen, you might say of Stephen, 'ten out of ten for courage', but very little for tact. Here is a Greek foreigner, in Jerusalem, hammering into the locals. He tells them that they are obstinate and where it matters unfaithful, they are part of a faith community that has always got it wrong, and they are getting it wrong again now. What was he trying to do? This isn't the way to communicate to people; he shows little grasp of the struggles it would mean for them to accept his claims and change their allegiances and loyalties. If he's trying to communicate, he is clearly not following the usual advice to respect and pay attention to the audience.
Not surprisingly they are enraged and 'grind their teeth' (verse 54). You can't blame them and in their culture and at that time they did what they did and stoned him. I'm glad for Stephen that at the moment it became clear for him, that the heavens opened, that glory filled the space in which he met his gruesome end, but I'm still no clearer as to what he thought he was doing. The first Christian Martyr goes down like a good 'un but none of us are much the wiser as to why.
The word martyr means 'to show' or perhaps 'to demonstrate'. I can't imagine that he purposely sought to die in order to demonstrate anything, but that was the effect of his death. This witness was to the power of love to overcome even the harshest of treatments. It was the witness of someone driven into terminal frustration because people who should have 'got it' didn't, and the wonder and the glory that was theirs to take was being ignored, just as God's graciousness is ignored again and again through history. Stephen, beside himself in his longing for God's grace to flow, steps up to the plate and dies. Perhaps he wasn't trying to achieve anything, he was just so full of it; the love, the wonder, the promise, the possibility and the reality of this new life and kingdom. Jesus said that if his disciples didn't praise, the stones themselves would cry out. (Luke 19:40).
Martin Luther King once said that "if you haven't found something worth dying for, you aren't fit to live". Well I don't think we are called to follow Stephen's example, but we are all offered the possibility of finding something so precious that all else fades in importance and glows in significance.
- What really matters to you, what matters so much that you get frustrated that other's don't get it, what matters so much you feel you might die for it?