Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter
(Acts 7:51-8:1a; John 6:30-35)
Stephen almost taunts his enemies to kill him. He sounds like a zealot seeking martyrdom for earthly fame more than heavenly glory. Jesus had measured criticism for the Pharisees that opposed him. Stephen on the other hand pulls no punches. But in the end Stephen does conform himself to Jesus quite admirably.
As Stephen is being stoned, like Jesus he prays for his enemies. Also like Jesus, Stephen entrusts his spirit to God although in his case it is the eternal Son. God provides a final favorable comparison between Stephen and Jesus. As Jesus’ death and resurrection ends with his disciples receiving the Holy Spirit to carry on his work, Stephen’s death ends in St. Paul taking note and eventually preaching the Lord Jesus in the Greek world.
God does not want us to seek martyrdom. That would be both unnatural and foolish. But God does want us to imitate Jesus’ willingness to forgive. That involves a dying to self that is not unlike a martyr’s witness.