On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a murdered prophet.
It’s St. Stephen’s feast day, and we remember his sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. One thing I like best about St. Stephen is his amazing, Spirit-given ability to consolidate the entire history of salvation (up to that point) in a clear speech to the authorities, which is recorded in Acts. I love how he speaks so sharply that the crowd covers their ears in rage before attacking and killing him. It’s an anti-Jewish-authority polemic with anti-Semitic overtones that unfortunately still linger today. I think a better way to look at this passage is to ask how we have covered our ears to shut out the gospel message.
The gospel lesson for today (Matthew 23:34-39) contains a damning message. In it, Jesus declared that God has sent his prophets, sages, and scribes to the world so that they might be killed and so that their righteous blood might be on us. When we stop up our ears and turn our backs on God’s word, we ignore what the prophets are telling us. Often, we do even worse. In ways less bloody than the attack on Stephen, we cut into those who come with the gospel truth by belittling them, insulting them, ostracizing them, and shunning them. I don’t like looking at my real self in the mirror, and, when the prophet holds that mirror up, I’d rather just throw a rock at it (and him).
St. Stephen asks us to hear a hard message. He wants us to face the reality of our sin and, in response to that honest self-reflection, turn to God for help. When was the last time someone said or did something that reminded you of your own sinfulness or failures? When was the last time that message was warmly received? To get to that point of salvation, we must start with hard truths. And we should celebrate those who are able to say honestly what needs to be said. We must resist the temptation to cast stones and instead allow the words of prophets to break us down so that we might be built back up.