Reflection by Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.
Readings from:

How ironic that during this joyful time of Easter, we hear the difficult story of the stoning of St. Stephen, one of the first 7 deacons of the new church.  The elders and scribes want nothing to do with the message he preaches, are infuriated with him, and ultimately throw him out of the city and stone him to death.

The deaths of both St. Stephen and Jesus have many similarities, particularly these three:

  1. Just as Jesus had been arrested, made to stand trial, questioned by the high priest, accused by false witnesses, and executed, so too was Stephen arrested, tried, questioned, and executed.
  2. At his trial, Jesus tells the high priest he will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven (Luke 22:69–70). After this he is condemned to death (Luke 22:71). Likewise, Stephen preaches something very similar, (Acts 7:56) and then, he is killed.
  3. When Jesus is crucified, he prays, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Similarly, Stephen prays for his accusers: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Just before dying Jesus prays, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). Stephen likewise prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).

Consider, too, that at both their deaths, there were bystanders.  Saul, we’re told, was one of them at Stephen’s stoning.  The dictionary defines ‘bystander’ as ‘person who is standing near and watching something that is happening but is not taking part in it.’  Our Jewish sisters and brothers have done much study on the role that bystanders played in the horrific event of the Holocaust.  As a result of their findings, they have initiated programs especially for young people so that this complicit behavior of inactive bystanders does not happen again to other victims in any situation, especially bullying.  They call this program not ‘bystanders’, but rather, ‘Upstanders” which highlights the importance of standing up and speaking out.

We pray we may never be witnesses to any kind of violence against another, and always be active in trying to prevent such oppressive behavior.  But perhaps in other ways, we are passive bystanders when we are witnesses to others being hurt by unkind words, judgments, and insults in our presence.  What is our response?  Will we be ‘bystanders’ and part of the stone throwing by our silence, or will we be ‘upstanders’ like Stephen, a courageous Christian witness?