Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter
Stephen’s bold witness continues today. He had worked signs and wonders of his own which attracted the crowds, but they could not bring themselves to believe or to understand his words. He had explained the unfolding of God’s plan, identifying Jesus as the Righteous One, the awaited Messiah. When Stephen concluded his strong sermon against the Jews, they rushed against him and took him out to kill him.
Stephen’s death was reminiscent of Jesus’ own death – preaching that offends and stirs to anger, emotion swept the crowd to condemn. Stephen too prayed for his persecutors, and then “receive my spirit”.
Stephen had been able to put faith in the Risen Lord. Jesus had been all the sign he needed. The death and resurrection and the accounts that spread from Jerusalem became a cornerstone for Stephen and many others with him. They did not have to continue asking for another sign, they had all that they needed. Stephen and others like him attracted many to the New Way. They became the living witnesses of the Resurrected Lord (though they had not themselves witnessed the Risen Jesus) in the midst of hostile hearers and those still closed to the Good News.
Stephen and those in the early Church stand in contrast to those who first heard Jesus on the hillsides and witnessed his feeding of the crowds and still looked for another sign so that they might believe. Stephen and the faithful are evidence that the word of the Lord, the word and instruction of Jesus fell on good soil and yielded a rich harvest. The word and instruction of Jesus strengthened and nourished them. They were granted the gift of faith, to believe in Jesus and the one who sent him.
Jesus led many to faith. The witness and preaching of the apostles and first followers of the way spread the Good News to many more. They were quick to be open to the grace of God, to the bread that comes down from heaven.
We pray that we too are ever open to God’s life, which comes to us in Word, in sacrament, through the witness of one another. May the Risen Lord, the Bread of Life, so nourish us and transform us, that we become signs to many others of the power of God at work in us and in the world.
Reflection by Fr. Peter Ullrich, OSB