Lectio Divina: St. Stephen the First Martyr
1) Opening prayer
Lord our God,
we honor today St Stephen,
the first martyr of Your young Church.
Make us good witnesses like him,
people filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit,
men and women who are full of fortitude,
as we try to live the life of Jesus.
Give us a great trust
that we may live and die in Your hands
and make us pray for those who harm us,
that You may forgive them and us.
We ask you this through Christ our Lord.
2) Gospel Reading – Matthew 10: 17-22
“Be prepared for people to hand you over to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as evidence to them and to the Gentiles. But when you are handed over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes, because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will come forward against their parents and have them put to death.
You will be universally hated on account of my name; but anyone who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
• This 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, which is the feast of Stephen, the first martyr, the liturgy presents us a passage from the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 10: 17-22), taken from the Sermon of the Mission (Mt 10: 5-42). In it, Jesus advises the disciples 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 to his faith in Jesus to 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 given 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 in resisting 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.
4) Personal questions
• 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 people who are persecuted up to the point of death because of their fidelity to the Gospel. Do you know any people in this situation?
5) Concluding Prayer
Lord, be for me a rock-fastness,
a fortified citadel to save me.
You are my rock, my rampart;
true to your name, lead me and guide me! (Ps 31:2-3)