‘Hate-rid’ – Monday, 3rd week of Easter- Acts 6:8-15
And so the great persecution of the Church begins with Stephen. On him will be laid the first crown of martyrdom. The Innocent blood of martyrs, such as Stephen’s will drench the Church, thus sowing the seeds of Christianity.
We were told that the apostles felt bogged down with the daily distribution of food. They were convinced that their primary role was to preach and teach the Gospel. It was for this reason that seven men were ordained to carry on the task of the distribution of food within the community.
Ironically we are told that Stephen, who no doubt waited tables, also began to preach and perhaps more eloquently and passionately than the apostles themselves. It is this passionate preaching, and the crowds that were drawn to Stephen that attracted the attention of the Freedmen.
Who were the Freedmen? There are two possible explanations to who these people were. The Greek term Freedmen (Λιβερτῖνος) is a loan word from Latin libertini, who were freed slaves; Jews taken into slavery by the Romans under Pompey in 63 BC, and those whose forefathers were granted freedom.
It is also possible that these were proselytes (converts), enslaved non-Jews, who embraced the Jewish way of life. Their freedom came from their new found Jewish religion and hence they spoke and worshipped Yahweh in Greek (not Hebrew) in synagogues attended by this linguistic group only. Perhaps it was these Greek-speaking people that picked an argument with Stephen.
Stephen the ‘table boy’ who waited at tables also had this great gift of preaching. We are told from the text itself that he was “full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs and had the wisdom of the Spirit.” If you put all this together, it makes Stephen the most desired preacher, teacher and healer of his time. Imagine a Stephen such as this in our day! He would cause sufficient clerical jealousy that could go for the jugular. Perhaps that’s exactly what happened with the rival group of the Freedmen.
When jealousy can’t bring down a man because of his uprightness, then enemies usually resort to low blows. A web of lies through a process of “secret instigation”, coupled with the false charge of blasphemy, which was nothing short of high treason against God, was brought against Stephen. It amazes me how people such as the Freedmen (and mind you, thoughts such as theirs exist even today) live with their conscience.
We know today, how this narration will end. And while I anticipate the now forgone conclusion of Stephen’s martyrdom at the end of chapter seven, one thing crosses my mind, as I am sure it should yours. Why does God permit evil people to flourish and the good to undergo suffering? Writing from my own experience, I have often cried to the Lord against such injustice. But a careful reading of the scriptures will show you that there is a pattern in righteous persecution.
God does not cause us to suffer, especially when the cause of suffering stems from another human, for He does not interfere like a puppet master in the scheme of things in human hearts. I believe when we suffer, as His son did, he suffers too. God did not step into our world to force us to accept His love( which He could). He rather gave His Son to die for us, so that looking at His Son’s innocent suffering, we may find comfort in our own.
Today is a day not only to plumb the depths of our own suffering, but a day to pray for the conversion of those who perpetuate evil; a day to appeal to their conscience to stop what they do. Heaven forbid that you and I stand in that list of perpetuators of evil.
The world stands in need of liberation my Lord; it still has to feel your love.
Fr Warner D’Souza.
Dedicated to the memory of the 8 and 16 year old rape victims of Kathua and Unnao
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