Acts chapters 6-7
The persons who belong to the same family look more or less like each other: in the eyes, in the colors, in the features of the face ... We can recognize the children especially if they look like their parents.
In the same way, we Christians, who are all one family with God our Father, must look like to our Father! Today I will tell you the story of a young man who managed to look like our Lord Jesus Christ. He lived in the first years of the Church, yet to this day all the faithful admire him and would like to imitate him.
Stephen, that was his name, believed and loved Christ with all his heart. He stood out among other Christians for his strong faith, but also for his wisdom. He was full of the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. That is why he was chosen to be one of the seven deacons, that is, one of the seven helpers of the apostles. Tireless, Stephen cared for the widows, for the poor, for all those in need. In addition, he preached zealously for Christ. He even performed miracles with Jesus Christ’s power.
In Jerusalem the number of Christians increased more and more. This, however, angered Christ’s enemies. The Pharisees and the high Priests hated Stephen and envied him. One day at the synagogue, some people got up to talk to him. They tried to trap him with their words and questions. But in vain. They did not succeed. It was impossible for them to counter argue his wisdom. Stephen left them speechless. Humbled as they got, blinded by their envy and hatred they decided to pay men to lie that they had heard Stephen blaspheming Moses and God! So, they managed to turn the common people and the religious leaders against him! He was arrested and dragged to the Jewish council to stand trial. Indeed, a trial was held against him. Witnesses were presented. What did they claim against Stephen? They passionately accused him: "This man does not stop cursing our temple and the mosaic law!". But had they ever heard Stephen curse? Of course not! They were false witnesses; they were paid to lie. It was time for the accused to answer. They all turned their eyes to him. What a contrast! Those had dark looks but Stephen’s face shined with a heavenly beauty, he looked like an angel! Everyone was left stunned.
Stephen held the floor. He reminded the Jewish judges of the history of their people, starting with the patriarch Abraham. He talked about Moses and the temple of Solomon. So, he showed them that they had unjustly accused him of using blasphemous words. He ended his address with strict probing. He spoke to them with the language of truth: "You are the ones who crucified Jesus, you are always the ones going against the will of God!" While they were listening to him hatred pierced their hearts like a knife. They looked at him aggressively. How he dared to speak to them with such boldness! Stephen would pay them dearly for it! But God helped his faithful young man. He opened the sky. Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and he saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father. "Behold," he said, "I see the heavens open and the Son of man, that is, Jesus Christ, standing at the right hand of God!" His enemies could no longer bear listening to him. They shouted at him with wild voices and pulled him out of the city. They started throwing stones at him mercilessly. They were determined to kill him. And how did Stephen answer? Did he respond with hatred? No! Stephen prayed: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!". While the stones were falling like rain on him, he knelt bloodied and exhausted and with a loud voice coming from the depths of his heart, he exclaimed: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them, forgive them!" As he finished his words full of love and forgiveness, his soul fluttered to heaven. He was the first to win the incorruptible crown of martyrdom. He is the first martyr of Christ. That is why he is called the first-martyr.
Forgiveness, the attribute of God’s children
How did young Stephen managed to look like our Lord Jesus Christ? As Christ on the Cross forgave and prayed for those who crucified him, Stephen forgave and prayed for those who stoned him. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34). You may not have bitter enemies yet. Every day, however, you are given various opportunities to forgive. These are some cases when we need to forgive:
♦ When they make fun of us, sometimes even behind our backs, for something we may not be able to do or do not do so well or for some of the habits we still have or for our weaknesses and imperfections.
♦ When our classmates or people we consider our friends lie to us. How many times have we been disappointed, when we found out that those we trusted betrayed our friendship with a lie!
♦ When we are being slandered, that is, when they spread false rumors that we said or did something bad.
♦ When they curse us, they speak badly to us, they tell us words that hurt.
♦ When they hit us, they push us and want to throw us down, without us even provoking them.
Every day, we have reasons to forgive. But do we forgive? Our first reaction is to take our revenge: Did they fool us? Let’s fool them back. Did they hit us? Let's hit them back. Did they swear at us? Let’s swear at them back. That is easily done. That is why there are so few who manage to do the opposite, to forgive with their heart.
But it is so necessary to forgive! How can I say the "Our Father" if I do not forgive? Jesus Christ has taught us to say in this prayer "Forgive our sins, as we also forgive those who have wronged us." So, if we have not forgiven, how dare we say the "Our Father"? Christ also told us: "If you do not forgive others, then I will not forgive your sins" (see Mt 6:15). And we commit so many sins ... If we do not forgive the mistakes of others, our own sins will remain unforgivable!
But how will we be able to forgive? With Christ’s help we can make a difficult perhaps, yet a worthy struggle: We should not pay back the evil they did to us. On the contrary:
♦ Has anyone hurt me? I must find an opportunity to respond to him with kindness!
♦ Has he spoken insultingly to me? I’ll answer him with love!
♦ Has he talked badly about me? I’ll look for an opportunity to talk about him with praise!
♦ Has someone hurt me? I’ll make a prayer for him!
God, who is my father, raises His sun for both those who love Him but also for His enemies (see Mt 5:45). He grants to everyone, without exception, His goods. Therefore, if I want to be like Him, in order to be His true child, I have to do the same: to give to all, to friends and enemies, my love and my forgiveness! If I show love only to those who love me, if I do good only to those who treat me well, I do not do anything great (see Luke 6:32-33). However, by God’s power I can achieve something much greater: to show love to those who have done me harm! Every time we will achieve, by God’s grace, such a "great leap", we will experience the joy of the greatest victory! And in heaven the crown of glory will be prepared for us!