What's on my mind this Feast of St Stephen is simple and difficult.
I'm thinking about how Jesus was killed by power plays between religious authorities and Roman government, but Stephen was stoned by angry religious authorities alone.
It may be unorthodox to not focus on the saint on his feast day, but I'm really thinking about the religious authorities, their resistance to the New Thing that Stephen was telling them about, even though he put this New Thing into the broader history of their religion.
I don't know if my religious education puts me in the category of a religious authority, but I do know that I am resistant to changes in religious thought and practice (even as there are people in the news with some regularity who say I deserve to be stoned for changes I do want, indeed changes that I represent, but that's another story).
While this has nothing to do with Stephen directly and is a few chapters before he gets stoned, I can't help but think of this passage:
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law,
respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put
outside for a short time.
Then he said to them, ‘Fellow-Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men.
For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number
of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who
followed him were dispersed and disappeared.
After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got
people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were
So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let
them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin,
it will fail;
but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God! [Acts 5:34-29]
Gamaliel had a point and a cool head about him. He points out that some people, with as many as 400 followers, did not have lasting impact, so don't get all excited about these Jews who were saying weird things about Jesus. It'll pass, or it won't, but God will sort it out.
I'm uncomfortable with this, since I can think of a few religious movements that are lasting longer than I probably think they should. And I can think of a few that came, did their damage, and disappeared.
The point is, as a follower of a tradition that says God makes all things new, worships a God who is always working on a new creation and surprising us in our status quo, I owe it to my brothers and sisters in faith to not stone them, even only metaphorically, if they bring in some crazy new idea. Question everything, I think that's still fair instruction, but questioning shouldn't devolve into stoning.
So I remember Stephen today with the remembrance that he was part of something new and it upset the apple carts of the religious authorities, who could have been more open, or at least less violently reactionary, to something new.
May we all be found not violently reactionary.