Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Template of Self-Giving

The word template popped into my mind this morning as I thought about St. Stephen, "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit", and the first martyr. Webster defines template, which derives from the French templet/temple = part of a loom, as: 1) a short piece or block placed horizontally in a wall under a beam to distribute its weight or pressure; 2) a gauge, pattern, or mold used as a guide to the form of a piece being made; 3) a molecule that serves as a pattern for the generation of another macromolecule.

What a template of holiness and dedication to Jesus the Christ Stephen is for us! He was one of six men deemed qualified enough to be commissioned to address the needs of Greek-speaking widows in the Christian community. One could rightly assume Stephen's kindness, gentleness, compassion, and diplomacy in dealing with grieving women. In his ministry the Acts of the Apostles describes him as "full of grace and power", a wonderworker, one who could speak with great wisdom of the Holy Spirit, i.e., truthfully, convincingly, and unapologetically, exposing and challenging error where it existed. A group of Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others from Cilicia and Asia, who'd banded together as "the synagogue of the Freedmen", argued with Stephen, confronted him, got others to misquote him and falsely accuse him of violating the Law, stirred up the people and their leaders, and finally drug him before the Council, a kangaroo court. Isn't it ironic how, continually throughout history, close-minded, insensitive, intransigent ideologues, mostly males, will arrogantly identify themselves as "Freedmen", "Freedom Fighters", "Moral Majority", etc.  

Calmly, with great passion, and at great length Stephen witnesses to the ancient heritage and faith of the Jewish people, at the same time reminding the Council members and the crowds of their own stiff-necked resistance to God's Spirit, despite Scripture's prophecies, in rejecting the Righteous One, Jesus, by killing him. "You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it." It was far more than they could stomach, as their enragement with this man, to the point of grinding their teeth, stopping up their ears, and loud shouting displayed. Mob psychology kicks in, and Stephen is dragged off to be stoned to death. 

Even in the midst of their frantic frenzy to shut Stephen up, the holy deacon, gazing into the heavens, shares the gift of a divine vision on the spot: "Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" As they begin to pelt him with stones and rocks, Stephen offers his whole self in one last prayer: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit", culminating in a plea that his killers' actions not be held against them. 

Thus, Stephen died, with Luke, the author of Acts, continuing: "And Saul [at whose feet the crowd had laid their coats] approved of their killing him." Yet, as history would attest, Stephen became a true template of self-giving, proving that, indeed, the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. We know that Saul became Paul, a man who himself, once God got his attention, became an indefatigable witness of the Righteous One in whose defense Stephen had given his life. So much so, that the whole Jesus movement continued to grow and flourish, not only in the Middle East, but over the whole earth. Throughout that expansion of the Good News to all parts of the world, many others would, like Stephen, become "templates of self-giving" down to the present, some even with their lives.

Today, in the shadow of the crib of the newly born Jesus, we pray "that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray even for his persecutors, through our Lord, Jesus Christ..."            

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