Sticks and Stones
Acts. 7. 54-56
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’
But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him,
Today is the day we remember St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, and today we remember the first death for the sake of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice is never far away from the Jesus story.
Children are often told "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." I said it to one of my grandchildren the other day and caught myself, because it makes no sense. Words hurt me often, much more than the physical pain of a thrown stone. In Stephen's case, his words hurt and enraged the crowds so much that they threw stones, in response to which Stephen looked up and saw the face of God. This story and so many others turn this childish phrase on its head!
If we try an Ignatian approach to this passage, we might imagine being a part of the crowd that condemned Stephen and imagine the reaction around us of the crowd as they take him out to stone him. Or we might imagine being Stephen. Try retelling the story of the people of God as he did in the previous verses, telling the crowd they have not kept the law and must repent. Imagine the growing furor of the crowd around you. What might they be saying, yelling? And as the crowd rushes together against you, gaze up to heaven like Stephen did...and see "the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" and try to share that vision with the crowd.
The passage goes on:
While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. Acts. 7. 59-60
Imagine your faith being so powerful that in the face of a stone attack, you could utter these words, just as Jesus did on the cross. What does that feel like?
I did it once, and it worked. Try it.