Homily for December 26, 2016. Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr.
Bible Study: Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 & Matthew 10:17-22.
Just yesterday we celebrated the birthday of Jesus Christ himself. Today, we are celebrating another birthday, but this birthday is not a birth to human life but a birth into Supernatural life. Our opening prayer at mass this morning sums up today’s feast perfectly: “Grant Lord, we pray that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray for his persecutors.”
What is so unique about St. Stephen is not just the fact that he was the first martyr but that even while he was being stoned to death, he refused to allow bitterness and hatred becloud his mind. St. Stephen showed us what it really means to love by praying for the persons who were persecuting him. By the example of his life, St. Stephen imitated Jesus Christ who while on the cross prayed for his persecutors:
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34.
In our Gospel passage today, Jesus says: “Beware of men…” In other words, be careful of your fellow men. As much as it is good to trust people, do not expect from fellow humans that which only God can provide. Do not assume everyone means well for you, some persons actually become angrier with you when you are progressing. The case of Stephen is one of internal betrayal. Stephen was killed not by the Roman Emperors nor by strangers to the faith but by his fellow synagogue officials. When they discovered he had superior wisdom and no one could argue with him, they became jealous and instigated his death.
The question is: “if Stephen had decided to be quiet with his gifts of preaching and working of signs and wonders, would he have died like this?” But then, are we to hide our talents like the man who dug a hole to hide the talent his master gave to him to trade? Are we not supposed to use what God has given us to promote his kingdom? When Jesus says, “Beware of men” he doesn’t mean we should be afraid of people or hide our talents, he meant we should be prepared for shock and disappointment even from those we least expect. We would be shocked because we would be surprised to know how many hate us just because of we are doing what is right.
But the same Jesus also said in Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Meaning if in the course of being careful about people, we then get to realize our enemies, we should not write them off or cut them away from our lives. Rather, we should love them just the way God himself loved us by sending us his son to die in our place even while we were still sinners and enemies of God. (Confer Romans 5:8). Christmas is all about God loving his enemies. Mankind was at enmity with God because of its sins. But God loved still by sending us his Son Jesus Christ. Stephen made enemies for himself by showing his talent but then, he loved his enemies by praying for their forgiveness while they were stoning him to death.
When last did I pray for my enemies? And what kind of prayer am I praying for them? How have I loved my enemies and what do I plan to give them in imitation of what God did for me?
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to imitate you just like Stephen. Amen. Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you and Merry Christmas