They both spoke with Wisdom and no one could resist their arguments - (Acts 6:10, Matt 13:54)
Both had false witnesses testify against them - (Acts 6:11, Matt 26:59)
The Pharisees stirred up the crowd to turn against them (Acts 6:12, Matt 27:20)
Both were brought in before the council for trial - (Acts 6:12, Matt 26:59)
Both were falsely accused of Blasphemy (Acts 6:13, Matt 26:65)
Both were accused of breaking the Law of Moses (Acts 6:13, Matt 12:2)
Both were associated with high priests - (Acts 7:1, Matt 26:3)
Stephen was dealing with the same people - (Acts 7:1, Matt 26:57)
Both prayed for forgiveness of their executioners - (Acts 7:60, Luke 23:34)
Their bodies were both buried by devout men - (Acts 8:2, Matt 27:59)
That is the ultimate goal of Christianity isn’t it? To have our lives so configured to Christ that when people look at us they see not us, but the image of our Lord and Savior lived out in our actions and words. Stephen managed this in a way that led to martyrdom. Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. (CCC 2473) Not all of us are called to Martyrdom. Many of us may live a long, productive life that ends in a quiet and peaceful death. That doesn’t free us from not only needing to be more like Christ, but it should be our desire! We should want to be more like Him! To live in a way that not only honors his memory, but makes him present to those around us. It reminds me of Philip, who we do not see being martyred but still presenting himself much like the story of Stephen.
When we look at these two men we see clear examples of what we are being called to do. We are being called to live our lives in a way that images the life of Christ. A life of faith and obedience to God the Father. One in which we go forth regardless of the danger or consequences that might be involved with preaching the Gospel of Christ, even if it means going to our own death. Why? What is in it for us? What is worth all of this hubbub? That’s where the Gospel begins to point us.
Jesus has just performed some major miracles in the presence of these men and women on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The people have all the evidence in their presence to say that he not only multiplied the bread, but also somehow miraculously crossed the sea in the night without a boat. This man has done something which is not natural, something that only God should be able to do, he has command over the elements! He forms reality around him, changing the storm into calmness, water into something which can be walked on, bread into something which multiplies and feeds beyond it’s capacity.
Yet when they come to him, they aren’t looking for the right thing. Their stomachs are empty again… they just want more food. I can imagine the people seeing a new way of life in which they just follow this man around for free food and entertainment. Jesus goes on to give them the bread of life discourse, in which we Catholics see the Eucharist. The Old Testament is filled with examples of God providing for his people: Thus the flood and Noah's ark prefigured salvation by Baptism, as did the cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea. Water from the rock was the figure of the spiritual gifts of Christ, and manna in the desert prefigured the Eucharist, "the true bread from heaven.” (CCC 1094) Unlike the manna which their fathers had eaten in the desert, which only fed them for a day, Jesus was offering them something more powerful, something more filling, something greater than that bread which must be gathered every day. He was offering them his very self.. Body, soul and divinity… in the Eucharist. He offers you the same today. He is offering you eternal life.
Are you ready for that? Each of us is called to specific vocation, to a specific way of life. You are the only you there is. Pope Francis reminded us of that in his simple, yet eloquent way:
You are called to journey this life in a way that leads to eternity in the presence of God. You are called to be the best you, you can be. That doesn’t mean you have to be like me… your calling is unique.. The way you do things is unique.. God made you to be you, but to be the real you requires living a life in conformity to the image in which you have been made.. In the image of Christ.. Are you ready for that? It begins anew every time we step forward and receive him, responding Amen…” All that you have said, we will do.” (Exodus 24:3)
His servant and yours,
“He must increase, I must decrease.”