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Doctrines & Morals

The First Christian Martryr, St Stephen

Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59, Mt. 10:17-22. In the centuries before the priest Zachariah was put to death by stoning, his last words were shouts of curse: “May the Lord see this and avenge me.” (2 Chron. 24:22) In contrast, the dying words of Stephen in today's first reading is like that of Jesus: “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” The Old Testament “Eye for an eye” we can readily understand, since crimes of violence and injustice cry out to Heaven for vengeance. In the light of the injustice done to him, we can only be amazed by Stephen’s final words, praying to God to pardon his killers. His crime was to have spoken some hard truths that his audience did not want to hear. As a result, the frenzied mob put him to death by stoning. Under a rain of rocks that crushed his bones, Stephen commended his spirit to Jesus and with his dying breath prayed for his killers.

How do we transcend from Zachariah’s, “May God punish them” to Stephen’s “Lord forgive them”? The one who speaks in today’s Gospel, foretold that those sent out to spread His message would be rejected from one town to another and that some would be killed. One would expect His next words to be words of woe to the killers. Instead, they are words of divine mercy: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” Unconquered by hatred, Jesus conquered hatred with love and so did Stephen, the first of many Christian martyrs, who echoed those saving words: Father, forgive them. Stephen was martyred for witnessing to Jesus, for publicly calling Him the glorious Son of Man, now standing at the right hand of God. We have been given the gift of the same Holy Spirit, who empowers us to live like Jesus and die like Jesus. On this feast of St Stephen, we pray for a fresh outpouring of this Spirit into our lives.

May the Lord help us to grow in appreciation and love of God and teach us to love our enemies as we celebrate the memorial of St Stephen, who prayed even for the men who stoned him to death! Amen!! Be safe, it is well with you!!!

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