Reflection for Friday, December 26, 2003: Feast of St. Stephen, first martyr.

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Authors
Burke-Sullivan, Eileen
Issue Date
2003-12-26
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Essay
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en_US
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Deacon and martyr he is called -- servant and witness. The Jerusalem Church called him forth, and laid hands on him, according to the Acts of the Apostles, to take care of the socially outcast women and children in a neglected group of Greek speaking Jewish Christians. I like to imagine the scene that drove Peter and James to get some help in administrating that outspoken, multi-national community of early Jesus followers. | |As a friend of mind in Boston likes to say: " Picture This:"|The Jerusalem based disciples were feeling very good about themselves and their leaders. Peter was preaching brilliantly about Jesus' mission and bringing new converts to the door of the synagogue nearly every day. But there was the problem of these "foreigners" -- these people who couldn't even speak household Hebrew -- who were crowding into Jerusalem and filling up the seats in the synagogue where "our" family always sat and now are asking -- no, demanding -- assistance for their widows and orphans when there is hardly enough to take care of "our" own. Well! Peter and James certainly nailed it. They didn't have time to worry about such mundane affairs -- so they told the Greek-speakers to pick some leaders they could live with and the Apostles would recognize them as chosen by Jesus himself. They would be busy taking care of those nagging poor -- but better them than the apostles who had to preach, after all! | So Stephen was selected -- a man filled with grace and power . . . one who could be entrusted with the just distribution of material goods was in fact so filled with the Spirit of God that he could also speak God's prophetic word. Stephen apparently found time to take care of the poor and to preach. | But as is often the case with the talented and effective -- those filled with the Spirit -- his message attracted the attention of the power elite among all the Greek Speaking Jews in Jerusalem and he infuriated them. Scripture scholar Luke Timothy Johnson says that the word used in today's scripture literally means "they were ripped through their hearts." The outcome is to be expected -- what happened to Jesus and the prophets before him happens to Stephen.|Stephen's message and its consequences for the hearers and for him bring us to the reason this feast is located in such immediate proximity to the Feast of Christmas. It's time to push the tinsel, the cant about sleigh bells and the wrapping paper aside and recognize the feast of Christ's sending for what it is -- the Incarnation of the Second Person of God in human nature. The fact of this feast changes the whole human order irrevocably. We humans don't like change very much and we really don't like our political, social, religious and economic order changed when we have been the beneficiaries of its twisted and sinful purposes. As the stockholders of Walmart, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Bush Administration or any of a host of other economic and political temples, the message of God's mercy and God's justice "rips through our hearts" too. It is hard to gloat about profits and a growing economy for the prosperous when a prophet is challenging your good news with Jesus' Gospel.
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University Ministry, Creighton University.
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These reflections may not be sold or used commercially without permission. Personal or parish use is permitted.
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