Friday, May 17, 2013
A Pattern for the Pebbles
Close to the base of my "spiritual family tree" stand those who have suffered for Christ, those who've given up lives, health or comfort for love of God.
It is only appropriate that such heroes are seen (by all of us) as basic to the faith, for they are exactly that. As Tertullian said in the third century, the blood of the martyrs is seed for the Church.
It was seed that God planted from the beginning. St. Paul endured imprisonments, beatings, stoning; St. John was exiled on the island of Patmos; St. Peter was allegedly crucified upside down.
It had all begun with Stephen.
"Those who listened to (Stephen's) words were stung to the heart; they ground their teeth in anger at him. Stephen meanwhile, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked to the sky above and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God's right hand. 'Look!' he exclaimed, 'I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand.' The onlookers were shouting aloud, holding their hands over their ears as they did so. Then they rushed at him as one man, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses meanwhile were piling their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As Stephen was being stoned he could be heard saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' And with that he died." (Acts 7:54-60)
Surely his acute view of reality buffered Stephen's agony as stones were hurled at him. He was given grace appropriate to the situation, just at the moment he needed it. I like to remember this. When I face a trial, God is there. He gives me just the glimpse of Him that I need, exactly when I need it. I know this through faith, and I know it from experience. God stands ready with what I need.
I have never been pelted with physical stones, but I've endured a few pebbles. Smirks and snickers and snubs for living and speaking the truth of God. I like to remember that Jesus told us to expect nothing less. "You will be hated by all on account of Me." (Matthew 10:22).
I pray to remember the example of Stephen. What a grace that the words of this first Christian martyr were written down: leaving, in effect, a pattern for all who would come after him. He looked at God, not at the situation. He prayed. He forgave. And his actions were witnessed by one who would turn, in time, to God.
Stephen's pattern for dealing with stones is just as much a pattern for the pebbles.
Look to God.
And God stands ready with what we need.
Painting: Bernardo Cavallino, Martyrdom of St. Stephen
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