A reflection the reading from the Acts of the Apostles with Leo
Reading 1 Acts 7:51—8:1A
Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.”
When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep.
Now Saul was consenting to his execution.
Stephen is quite the provocateur, isn’t he? Or is he just telling it like it is? Is there a message here for us? Stephen calls his persecutors “stiff-necked people”, the same words God used when he referred to the Israelites when they were worshipping the golden calf, waiting for Moses to come back down the mountain. In this context, stiff-necked means stubborn and not yielding control to the Master. So, Stephen is really saying that his persecutors are stubborn people, opposed to the movement of the Holy Spirit, God, in their lives. Might these words fit us…sometimes? I know that they fit me. I don’t think that I have actively persecuted prophets and others who have talked of the presence of the “righteous one” in their midst. However, there certainly have been times when I haven’t wanted to listen to the prophets around me who speak God’s word, a word that may be difficult to hear. For instance, I have been slow to come around to understanding the depth of the ecological crisis that we face. I often ask myself if I really want to change my ways as much as the prophets say I must in order to make a difference. Pope Francis is one of these prophets, and he tells us clearly in his encyclical Laudato Si’ that we must undergo a conversion, and see God in our world, our common home, and in the poor ones who live here. To not undergo this conversion is akin to destroying the planet and the poor. Strong words, but ones which Pope Francis speaks truthfully, I think. Like Stephen.