Stephen said to the people, the elders and the scribes: ‘You stubborn people, with your pagan hearts and pagan ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted? In the past they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, and now you have become his betrayers, his murderers. You who had the Law brought to you by angels are the very ones who have not kept it.’
They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.
But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and with these words he fell asleep. Saul entirely approved of the killing.
They people said to Jesus, ‘What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus answered:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven,
it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven,
the true bread;
for the bread of God
is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.’
‘Sir,’ they said ‘give us that bread always.’ Jesus answered:
‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.’
‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’
As a young child, I was always fascinated with TV serials featuring former Chinese dynasties. One of the recurring themes across all the shows was that of revenge, and how every party would want to kill, destroy and eliminate the other party for some grievance caused. The ultimate type of vengeance would be the killing of 9 generations worth of people within the family, to prevent any one of them committing revenge against the other party. The readings of today present to us another worldview — that of total forgiveness of one’s aggressors.
St Stephen shows us the importance of forgiving one’s enemies. The Jews were certainly one angry people, especially when they realised they could not get the better of him in argument. Unfortunately, such behaviour still continues today in our world and perhaps, it has grown even worse with the advent of social media. It is now easy for us to spread news (which may or may not be truth) of another party so as to cause the person’s standing to diminish. In this aspect, we don’t physically kill a person, but may actually be killing the person’s character and stature.
Is it possible for us to change our behaviour then? I believe we can do so if we can learn from Jesus, who shares with us His life in the Bread of Life discourse we read in today’s Gospel. What gives us life is when we unite ourselves with Christ Jesus whenever we receive the Holy Eucharist and discover what it means to be life-giving creatures. Before we wish ill upon others, let us ask God to enter into our hearts and purify from us all aspects which may prevent us from growing closer towards Him .
(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)
Prayer – Dear Father, we pray that for the grace to forgive those who have hurt us.
Thanksgiving – We give thanks for all priests who administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation.