Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Asking God not to hold them accountable.

Today’s first reading is near and dear to my heart for many reasons.  Acts 7: 51-58 is about St. Stephen, first Martyr, and Deacon of the church.  This passage shows him being martyred and gives us his last words, so I find it very special indeed.  In fact, it is his last words that I want us to focus on today. 

Acts 7: 59-60: 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

St. Stephen’s last words are an echo of Jesus’s last words on the cross, “Forgive them father for they know not what they do.”  It shows a lot about Stephen’s heart and mind, I think.  We can keep a mask on through our lives saying one thing and in our hearts being another, but there is a time in everyone’s life when the mask drops, even the most clever among us can’t maintain it at this time.  What time is that you ask? Well, it’s the end of our lives. 

I have been with many people in their end life.  I have seen how that time strips people of their ability to ‘keep up appearances’.  Who they really are comes to the surface, and who they tried to pretend to be is shed.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s a beautiful and amazing thing.  They became more authentic to themselves.  People who were loving in general became more so because they shed the fear of hurt that kept them from fully expressing that love.  So, from that experience, I see St. Stephen’s words as a bright light to who and what he was as a person. 

In the previous verses, we see him as what we might view as a “fire and brimstone” preacher.  He isn’t holding back on truth.  In fact, I have seen this as him hitting everyone in the head with a truth hammer.  Then as now, people don’t like to have a mirror held up to their face.  The scripture says that they were infuriated and ground their teeth at him.  (Take a moment to consider that things we do not fear are true generally don’t anger us when we are accused of them.)  This outrage doesn’t prevent St. Stephen from speaking his truth though.  He continues on, in faith and spirit. 

The most beautiful and telling part of this story is how he ends the race.  “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  How many of us can do that?  Before you answer (aka lie to yourself), what happened the last time someone cut you off in traffic, or took something you owned, or bad mouthed you, or…fill in the blank with how someone did you wrong?  Those things were much less than people standing over you throwing rocks hard enough to end your life, like the people surrounding St. Stephen.  Yet, through the love of God, the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit, we have a stronger testimony in his last words than all the words he spoke before then.  He was saying that not only did he forgive them, he didn’t want his blood on their hands (even though they were clearly guilty). 

Before you think this doesn’t/shouldn’t apply to you let us remember what Jesus said in Luke 6: 27-28 : 27  “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

May our hearts not be hardened to those who need grace even more than we.  May this truth change us, and in changing us allow us to change the world.

Food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!