Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter
Both exciting and challenging things are happening in the scripture readings the Church gives us this week. This is particularly true in the First readings from the Acts of the Apostles, which has the same author as Luke’s gospel and is an account of the beginnings of Christianity. This time after Jesus’ resurrection, beginning with his ascension, more than 2000 years ago, can both challenge and inspire us Christians today in 2019.
Although the feast of St. Stephen is liturgically celebrated the day after Christmas, the story of his martyrdom is a post-resurrection account that we hear of in today’s readings. Stephen’s stoning to death for his faith in Jesus makes him the first Christian martyr. Scripture scholars tell us that this marks the beginning of early Christian persecution to the point of death (having previously just been imprisoned).
It’s also noteworthy that this reading from Acts introduces us to Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul), who by the end of this liturgical week will have his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. But in today’s reading, Saul is witnessing and consenting to Stephen’s execution.
Mindful of both Stephen and Saul/Paul, we might prayerfully ask ourselves, What am I willing to sacrifice for my faith? Most of us will never face death (or even imprisonment) for our beliefs, but are we being called to sacrifice our lifestyle? a particular job/career? A certain security? Our reputation or social status—for the sake of the gospel?
I am encouraged when I read that Stephen was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” which not only strengthened him but comforted him as he faced the angry crowd that stoned him. God did not abandon him and he did not die in vain.
I am also humbled when I realize that Saul, once consenting to Stephen’s violent death, is dramatically called by Jesus to turn from his evil ways and follow him...which he does! Sometimes it may take a serious wake-up call, like being knocked off our high horse to hear the Voice that is calling us to a change of life, to something more.
Who do you most identify with today? Jesus knows what we need to courageously follow Him. Let us pray for the Spirit’s presence, guidance, and, dare we ask, even a “wake-up call” to witness more fully to the gospel in this resurrection season.