• The contrast is enormous. Yesterday, Christmas Day, we had the crib of the newly born child, with the singing of the angels and the visit of the Shepherds. Today here is the blood of Stephen, stoned to death, because he had the courage to believe in the promise expressed in the simplicity of the crib. Stephen criticized the fundamentalist interpretation of the Law of God and the monopoly of the Temple. This is why he was killed (Acts 6, 13-14).
• Today, the feast of Stephen, first martyr, the liturgy presents us a passage from the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 10, 17-22), taken from the so called Sermon of the Mission (Mt 10, 5-42). In it ***
[quote]Jesus advices the disciples saying that fidelity to the Gospel implies difficulties and persecutions:
*** They will hand you over to the Sanhedrin and scourge you in their synagogues”. But for Jesus what is important in persecution is not the painful side of suffering,
but rather the positive side of witnessing
: “You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as evidence to them and to the gentiles”. Persecution offers the occasion of giving witness of the Good News which God brings to us.
• This is what happened to Stephen. He gave witness of his faith in Jesus up until the last moment of his life. At the hour of his death he says: “I can see Heaven thrown open, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7, 56). And in falling dead under the stones, he imitated Jesus crying out: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7, 60; Lk 23,34).
• Jesus had said: “When they will hand you over to them, ***
do not worry about how or what you have to say, because it will be suggested to you at that moment what you have to say
***: in fact, it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father who will speak in you”. This prophecy is also fulfilled in Stephen. His enemies did not succeed to resist the inspired wisdom with which he spoke” (Acts 6, 10). “The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently on Stephen, and his face appeared to them as the face of an angel” (Acts 6, 15). Stephen spoke “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7, 55). This is why the anger of the others was so great that they killed him.
[quote]• The same thing happens also today. In many places, many persons are drawn before the tribunals and they know how to give responses which exceed the wisdom of the learned and the wise (Lk 10, 21).
• Placing oneself in Stephen’s place,
*]have you suffered, sometimes, because of your fidelity to the Gospel?
*]The simplicity of the crib and the harshness of martyrdom go hand in hand in the life of the Saints and in the life of so many persons who, today are persecuted up to the point of death because of their fidelity to the Gospel.
*] Do you know closely persons like this?