[Sorry that this one is late; I started it over the weekend but didn't finish on Monday]
The chapter contains the earliest account of matrydom, that of Stephen, one of the seven chosen by the community of the faithful to minister to the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and its environs. What we all know about Stephen, of course, is his end. He was stoned to death after standing before a council of priests for his blasphemy in proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. He asked God to forgive those who murdered him. He served as an example to countless others who have given their lives for what they believed and what they did. But it's not Stephen's death that interests me, nor is it the bulk of the chapter. It's what he said prior to being executed by mob action that I find interesting and upon which I offer this reflection:
Stephen told a familiar story to his judges and onlookers, one that provided the basis for the identify and meaning of the Hebrew people. But he also reminded them of the circumstances where God's people failed to heed God's instruction and to worship God. He invoked the warnings of the prophets and the cataloged the consequences of those who did not heed God. He invoked Amos (Acts 7:42-43) and Isaiah (Acts 7:49-50). And then he rebukes his judges: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do."
What an odd expression, "uncircumcised of the heart and ears." Circumcision was the outward sign for Hebrew males marked as God's people, keepers of the covenant between Hebrews and God. But circumcision of the heart suggests a very different understanding of the relationship between God and humanity. The transformation is one of the heart.
I think that sometimes I"m more able to identify with the people who killed Stephen for his rebuke than I am able to identify with Stephen. And in order to combat that feeling, I have to invoke the term use in John for "Comforter"--the Paraclete. It's a technique I learned from a minister whom I once knew, someone for whom I had great empathy and respect because he had done bad things for which he had to ask the forgiveness of family and friends. It's not important what he did, it's important in what he did because of it. He asked the Holy Spirit to walk with him, every day.
I learned from him the techniques of praying to the Holy Spirit, calling by the name of Paraclete as used in John. I pray, "Paraclete, I don't have it in me to forgive this person" or "Paraclete, I can't change my attitude about this alone, I need you to walk beside me. I seek your presence." This kind of helps me discern the presence of the Holy Spirit, to know the presence of God and to internalize His will. I have to ask the Paraclete to walk beside me before God's love flows outward from me.
Stephen knew that grace and power. It allowed him to help others and to do the things that he was called by God to do. Mundane things and ultimate things. Stephen internalized the call that Jesus gives us as His disciples. This chapter reminds me that I must