Acts 7:1-53 Stephen’s long defense was a complete summary of the history of Israel from the time of Abraham to the reign of Solomon, builder of the first Temple. Stephen reminded them that their ancestors had persecuted all of the prophets and noted that Christ was only the latest prophet of Israel to be rejected. While Jews hold sacred the Temple and the land of Palestine, Stephen pointed out that God is not confined to these places and, in fact, he is present in every place and in every time. This was in accord with many Old Testament prophets (especially Isaiah and Jeremiah), who had taught that Israel should not focus solely on external rituals at the expense of genuine love of God and neighbor. His response to the charges was that the Temple and the Old Law had given way to the New Law of grace and charity derived from the teachings and life of Christ. He is the prophet of which Moses spoke. (CCC 1964)
Ch 7:9-36 Stephen described both Joseph and Moses in terms that parallel the life and mission of Christ, although in an imperfect way. (a) Each was rejected by his own people: Joseph by his brothers, Moses by the captive Israelites he was trying to defend, and Christ by the Romans and Jewish authorities. (b) Each was rescued by God: Joseph was saved from the pit, Moses was rescued from Pharaoh’s order to kill the Israelite male infants, and Christ was raised from the dead. (c) Each had become a liberator for his people: Joseph saved his people from famine by inviting them to Egypt, Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, and Christ redeemed the world through his Death and Resurrection. Joseph and Moses are thus “types” (TYPOLOGY!!) of the Old Testament that prefigure Christ. (CCC 1094-1097)
Ch 7:37-43 Moses had prophesied the coming of a prophet dramatically greater than himself (cf. Dt 18:15). This prophecy was fulfilled in Christ. The idolatry of the Israelites was the chief manifestation of their infidelity to the laws of God. (CCC 2567)
Ch 7:44-50 Solomon understood that the Temple was a sacred place made by human hands that could not contain God’s infinite and transcendent being. Stephen was implicitly comparing the Jews’ excessive reference for the Temple building to the idolatry of generations past. (CCC 2581)
Ch 7:54-60 The Roman law forbidding the Jews to execute lawbreakers was still in effect. Stephen’s martyrdom shows the following similarities to the Passion of Christ: As he was dying on the Cross, Christ commended his spirit to the Father (cf. Lk 23:46); as Stephen was being stoned, he asked Christ to receive his spirit. Like Christ, Stephen asked God to forgive those who were persecuting him. Such prayers of intercession for one’s enemies and persecutors represent a supernatural love rooted in the grace of God. Stephen sought to imitate Christ perfectly, even unto death. (CCC 597, 601, 663, 1281-1284, 2635)
Ch 7:56 Stephen’s remarkable vision of Christ at the right hand of the Father, i.e., vested with the power and authority of God, further attests to the divinity of Christ. (CCC 659, 2715)
Ch 7:58 Saul, who will become a major protagonist in the early Christian Church, is introduced here as one of those responsible for the death of Stephen.
Romans 11:1-10 Although many of the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, God did not reject Israel. Through his faithful remnant, the Church, God offers salvation to the entire world. Both Jews and Gentiles are invited to reconciliation to God through Christ. (CCC 711, 1081)
Ch 11:6 No longer on the basis of works: Grace, freely given by God, compels and empowers us to do good words as a necessary response to grace. Responding to grace with good works opens us to still more grace. Works are possible with the gift of grace, yet grace and works are inseparable. (CCC 2008)
Ch 11:11-15 Considering the magnificent conversions and transformations among the Gentiles, who were not the original beneficiaries of divine predilection, the future conversion of the Jewish people will be all the more glorious. (CCC 674)
Ch 11:17-26 Using a horticultural analogy, Paul stated that Gentiles had been grafted onto the root of the tree that was Israel. The Gentiles did not supplant Israel but joined it and then shared in its heritage and promises. Rather than being filled with pride, Gentiles should be overwhelmed and grateful for God’s mercy. Likewise, the Jews, who did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah and, therefore, had been broken off the tree, still have an opportunity to reconcile and be regrafted onto that same root. (CCC 60, 591, 674, 755)
Ch 11:25-36 It was God’s will that Gentiles as well as his Chosen People should find salvation. Through Christ, God fulfilled the promise of salvation made to the Israelites despite their failure to believe in him, a salvation now offered to all people. Paul called the eventual conversion of Israel a mystery (cf. verse 25), possibly alluding to the reality of Israel’s final participation in Christ’s Resurrection (cf. verse 15). (CCC 60, 442, 839-840, 1870)
Ch 12:1-8 Because our justification, bestowed upon us through Christ’s redemptive Sacrifice, conforms us to the will of God, we must willingly emulate the life of Christ and refrain from conforming ourselves to worldly behavior. The physical body is enlivened by the soul and is an integral part of a human being; likewise, an essential component of our new life in Christ is to control the passions and appetites of the flesh so we can worthily follow Christ and offer ourselves as a pure offering to God the Father. (CCC 1370-1372, 1990-1991, 1996, 2860)
Ch 12:1 Holy and acceptable: All the baptized are called to a life of holiness, living virtuously, avoiding impurity of mind and action, and practicing moderation in food and drink. The moral life is a form of spiritual worship that sets the stage for a solid spiritual life expressed in an intimate friendship with Christ. Lastly, this life in Christ will also be made manifest through habitual deeds of charity. (CCC 1454, 1809, 1838, 2031, 2341)
Ch 12:2-3 The Sacrament of Baptism confers a grace that removes both Original and all actual sin and initiates a growth in holiness. Among the effects of Baptism are an infusion of sanctifying grace, the theological virtues, and moral virtues together with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The effort to love God through prayer, self-denial, and deeds of charity results in an increase in the sanctifying grace gratuitously bestowed in Baptism. (CCC 8, 179, 2520, 2826)
Ch 12:4-5 As the Mystical Body of Christ, the People of God represent a diverse unity. All are called to serve complementary roles in building and strengthening the Mystical Body of Christ. The baptized are also members of the common “priesthood of the faithful,” whose mission is to cooperate with Christ in bringing redemption to the world The priesthood of the faithful is distinct from the ministerial priesthood, which acts in persona Christi Capitis (“in the Person of Christ the Head”), especially in the celebration of the liturgy. (CCC 791, 813-814, 1142, 1372)
Ch 12:6-8 Gifts: The Greek charisma-“charism,” or “gift”-is rooted in charis, meaning “grace.” These charisms, or gifts, are meant to be at the service of the faithful to facilitate their fidelity to Christ and as a means of spreading the Gospel.
In proportion to our faith: Prophecy must always be evaluated according to the criteria of Church doctrine. Such a consideration of the coherence of revealed truths is called the “analogy of faith.”
He who exhorts...cheerfulness: All gifts and ministries are to be used in service to the Church and one another in a spirit of joy. (CCC 114, 768, 2004, 2039)
Ch 12:9-21 Every member of the faithful has different gifts, but all are called to use the greatest of all gifts, charity, always seeking the good of others. The virtues Paul describes here are the fruits of love and charity. (CCC 1706, 1971, 2003)
Ch 12:12 In addition to personal prayer and liturgical celebrations, our entire lives become a prayer when we dedicate ourselves and all aspects of our lives to the glory of God, constantly loving and serving those around us. (CCC 1820, 2039, 2745)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
The Martyrdom of Stephen
The witness and testimony of the apostles leads to the conversion of many in Jerusalem: “The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). \
This growing success increases the resentment of the chief priests and leaders; a conflict is brewing, and the teaching of a Greek-speaking Jew named Stephen brings matters to the boiling point.
Because of the number of converts, the apostles pray and lay hands upon seven men of outstanding character to serve as deacons.
One of these men, Stephen, particularly “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), is arrested for teaching against the customs of Moses and the Temple.
A Jew brought up in the Hellenistic culture and now a Christian, Stephen sees that God’s desire is for all people to enter into his Covenant and that his Holy Spirit cannot be limited to one location, even if that place is the Temple.
He even seems to have taught with enthusiasm Jesus’ prophetic warning that the Temple would soon be destroyed.
All of this is too much for the Temple stewards, who clearly see this teaching as a threat not only to the Temple but also to those like themselves who derive their authority and prestige from it.
To teach against the Temple as Jesus did is to risk sharing his fate.
Like Jesus, Stephen is cast outside the city. Surrounded by his accusers, he sees a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God, a vision that seems to be a glimpse of Daniel 7—the very vision that Jesus referred to in his trial before the high priest when he said, “From now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Lk 22:69).
This puts Stephen’s accusers in a rage, and they stone him.
Stephen prays for God to forgive them and not to hold this sin against them, just as Jesus prayed for his enemies while on the cross. As Jesus commended his spirit to the Father, so Stephen commends his spirit to Jesus, witnessing to his faith that Jesus is God.
The trial and murder of Stephen inaugurates an all-out persecution against the Church, led by Saul of Tarsus, who oversaw Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7:58).
Luke simply states, “Saul laid waste the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3).
The early Church is scattered into Judea and Samaria.
Instead of destroying the Christian faith, this spreads its seeds into the wind, and it is blown across the world, settling wherever there is good soil in which it can grow and yield a hundredfold.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
We want to keep this relatively brief because it’s been kind of long these days
We can’t go anywhere without referencing Proverbs 27:14, “He who blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.”
I LOVE THAT!!
It’s good to be happy in the morning, that’s find
There are times where you can be like, “Bro, it’s too early and your excitement and your blessing early in the morning is received as a curse.”
Does that make sense?
So that’s a pretty fun Proverb there
No onward to Acts Ch 7
Not only do we have Stephen’s martyrdom, we also have Stephen’s speech
How incredible is this?
When we hear in the New Testament these people, like Stephen today, going over the story of salvation and you maybe heard most of the story beforehand
Here, Stephen goes all the way back to the call of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans and going to the Promised Land
And his son gets circumcised and all these things happen
Then his son’s son, Joseph, gets sold into slavery etc.
The whole shebang
We get to hear the whole story
We get to hear the whole story because this is the story of how God has called YOU NOW to say yes to Him in the same way that God called the people of Israel to say yes to him
Israel said Yes
Egypt hardened their hearts
Basically Stephen is saying, “Don’t harden your hearts.”
Acts 7:51, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.”
It’s not just a comparison with Israel and Egypt
It’s the comparison also of those in the wilderness
Those who were Hebrews who turned away from the Lord God, who saved them, to worship false gods
The golden calf and whatnot
IT IS SO POWERFUL
Stephen is saying, “That’s what you are doing right now. Here is the God who saved you. He saved you through his life, Death, and Resurrection here in Jesus Christ and you are hardening your hearts. You are turning away from this gift.”
Stephen’s martyrdom is SO POWERFUL and SO BEAUTIFUL
Acts 7:54, “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against them.”
Acts 7:57, “But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed upon him.”
They covered their ears because Stephen is saying, “I see in Heaven, I see the glory of God. I see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, the right hand of God.”
They’re plugging their ears because they don’t want to hear what Stephen has to say
GOSH YOU GUYS!!
How often is that the case where that is us and we don’t know if we want to hear God’s Word, or what God has to say to us today?
Because we have already hardened our hearts
That is also sometimes what happens around us
Stephen has the face of an angel, is full of grace and mercy
He is basically being just like Jesus as he says, “Father, forgive them. Don’t hold this sin against them.”
Even that INNOCENT Stephen, that HOLY Stephen, THEY DO NOT WANT TO LISTEN TO HIM
They plug their ears, rush upon him, and stone him to death
As we saw here, there is a young man named Saul, whose name will later on be changed to Paul
Here he is consenting to Stephen’s execution
So a lot of stories in this
There are some parts of New Testament writings that Fr. Mike loves more than others because they hit you in the right way
Was it yesterday or the day before where we read in Ch 8, “What should we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
How it talks about, “What should separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ? Tribulation or distress or persecution or famine, nakedness, peril, the sword.”
In Ch 5 we talked about how, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
If there is another chapter that Fr. Mike loves it is Ch 12 of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans
Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
We Catholics who are a part of this community might recognize some of this language in a couple of the Eucharistic Prayers
At Mass we ask God, “God, make us an acceptable sacrifice to you,” in the course of the sacrifice of the Mass
For our Non-Catholic friends, we want you to know at Mass, that is one of the things we pray for
Not only are we offering the once-for-all Sacrifice of Jesus
We are also saying, “Lord, help us to be part of that.”
As St. Paul says in Romans 12:1, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
THAT IS SO ESSENTIAL!!
IT IS NECESSARY FOR US!!
Because when we think the way the WORLD thinks, then it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that we are thinking the way that God thinks
Romans 12:9-21 is often read at wedding
Or did you not notice? 😉
A lot of wedding, when they choose the New Testament reading, they choose this reading
Romans 12:9-10, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
MAN!! (OH MAN!!)
These are the section of the Bible that you should HIGHLIGHT and maybe write notes in the side
Maybe read it and pray and say, “Ok God, how do I do this? How do I bless those who curse me? How do I live in harmony with one another? How do I not be haughty? How do I associate with the lowly?”
It goes on and on as you know because you just listened to it
OH GOSH YOU GUYS!!
WHAT A GIFT!!
Isn’t this the craziest gift, to be able to through the whole Bible like this
Fr. Mike kind of skipped over Romans Ch 11, but you can’t skip over it
St. Paul is saying, “Listen, the people of Israel have not been abandoned. It’s not that God has rejected them.”
That’s not the case at all
Any trace of anti-semitism or anti-Jewish sentiment has no place at all
Because Romans Ch 11 talks about God’s plan, his love, his call, and the gifts are irrevocable
Romans 11:29, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
God has not taken back HIS LOVE
God has not taken back HIS GIFTS
God has not taken back HIS CALL FOR THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL
He is calling them forward, though
He is calling them forward to receive Jesus as Lord
God has not taken back HIS PROMISES
God has not taken back HIS BLESSING
THAT IS VERY VERY IMPORTANT FOR US!!
You and I have been grafted onto the Tree of Israel
So it’s not like there’s a whole new Christian Tree that is next to the Jewish Tree
St. Paul says it is that root
The root is the story that Stephen told today
The root is all the way back to Abraham and the faith of our fathers
And we’ve been GRAFTED onto this tree
We are not BY NATURE Israelites
But Pope Paul VI said, “Spiritually, we are all Jewish because we have been grafted onto the tree.”
So we pray for our Jewish brothers and sisters not only that they realize that the promise is still theirs, but the fulfillment of the promise is also theirs
That fulfillment of the promise being Jesus Christ, our Lord
So we pray for those who don’t believe in Jesus
PRAY FOR EACH OTHER
FR. MIKE IS PRAYING FOR YOU EVERY SINGLE DAY
PRAY FOR FR. MIKE
Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise and thank you so much. Oh Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for the gift of these readings today. Help us to be yours. Help us to hear your words and put them into practice this day and every day. Help us to receive your grace and be grateful for the fact that you have saved us and grafted us into the Tree of Israel. Thank you, Lord. We praise you, Lord. We bless you. Please receive our praise. Please receive the blessing in Jesus’ name. Amen.”