Archive for the ‘St. Stephen’ Category

Taking Jesus Too Literally

September 30, 2015

Jesus Facepalm

We do well to closely heed all that our Lord Jesus says, but we must also carefully understand what the Word of God Incarnate is really telling us. Using Scripture to interpret Scripture, let us consider two examples where some modern-day Christians misinterpret Jesus’ teaching by taking him too literally.

 

“Do not swear at all”

Jesus declares, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

Swearing an oath or vow invokes God as one’s witness to a claim or a promise and invites God’s just punishments if his name is taken in vain. It seems that people in Jesus’ day were trying to steal credibility without fearing divine retribution by swearing by lesser holy things. But Jesus warns that all good things belong to God, and condemns clever manipulations of the truth as coming from the devil. Instead, Jesus says, “do not swear at all,” but “let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes.’”

So do any appropriate times and places remain for swearing oaths or vows in the New Covenant? God reveals that such exist through St. Paul. In Galatians 1:20 and 2nd Corinthians 1:23, God himself inspires St. Paul to swear oaths (for example, “I call upon God as witness, on my life, that it is to spare you that I have not yet gone to Corinth.“) And in Acts 18:18, we read that St. Paul “had taken a vow.” Thus, in rare, righteous, and serious situations a Christian may solemnly swear to things before God.


“Call no one on earth your father”

Jesus tells us, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9) Does this mean that we should not call priests (or our even own dads) “Father?” This is not how the first Christians understood Jesus’ words.

St. Stephen calls the Jewish leaders “fathers” in Acts 7:2, and St. Paul does similarly in Acts 22:1. God prompted St. John to address Christian community elders as “fathers.” (1st John 2:13-14) God also willed St. Paul to write of “our father Isaac” and to call Abraham “the father of us all.” (Romans 9:10, 4:16-17) God inspired St. Paul to regard and describe himself as a father to his spiritual children. (1st Corinthians 4:14-15, 1st Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 10) Therefore, the true concern of our Lord is not with the label of “father,” but that our greatest devotion and love always be directed toward “our Father who art in Heaven.”

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The Significance of Standing — Tuesday, 3rd Week of Easter

May 10, 2011

There’s a curious detail about Stephen’s vision of Heaven in our first reading today:

“Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and Stephen said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”

Stephen looks up to Heaven and sees Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand, but both the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed (which we say each Sunday) describe Jesus as “seated at the right hand of the Father.” What are we to make of this?

In the ancient world, to be seated at someone’s right hand gave you the place of higher honor. At a meal, this favored seat granted a special closeness to the host. In a kingdom, the one seated at the right hand of the throne would share in the king’s authority and rule. Of course, describing Jesus as “seated at the right hand of the Father” is only an image (God the Father is unlimited, pure spirit and doesn’t have a right hand.) But this phrase from our creeds does describe a reality: that Jesus is now in the intimate presence of God the Father, sharing supremely in His glory and rule. In his vision, Stephen beholds Jesus in the place of honor, at the Father’s “right hand,” but Stephen sees Jesus standing. So why is Jesus standing?

Did you know that whenever the President of the United States enters a room, everybody stands up? It doesn’t matter if it is a room full of Democrats or Republicans, members of the press, or ordinary citizens, everyone stands up for the President. The same goes for a judge in his courtroom: “All rise, the Honorable Judge So-and-so presiding.” And a gentleman knows that he ought to stand up whenever he greets a lady. Why do they stand? Because it is a sign of respect. If you think about it, whenever we’re offering prayers in the Mass, provided we’re not kneeling, we’re standing up to pray. We stand to pray as a sign of respect to God.

Sometimes, people stand as a sign of respect not so much for the individual but for the greatness of the office they possess. Even a U.S. President’s most hostile critics in Congress, political opponents who couldn’t say one good thing about him, will stand up when he arrives to give his State of the Union address out of respect for the office he holds. It wasn’t for this reason that Jesus stood. No one on earth could have demanded Jesus’ respect by holding an office higher than his.

Jesus stood up because he wanted to show Stephen a sign of His respect. Jesus stood up because he was proud of Stephen. I think that we forget that Jesus is a real human being, with human feelings and emotions about the human events he sees. At the same time, He is also God; and therefore, He sees us all.

When you’re alone, and overcome temptation to do what you know is good, Jesus sees you and He’s proud of you. When you give an anonymous contribution or do a secret kindness, Jesus sees it and He’s proud of you. When you are opposed like Stephen, by people who hate you, or that just don’t understand you, when all the while you’re trying act with love, you do not stand alone. Remember that when you do what’s hard for Jesus, He sees it, and He sees you and He’s proud of you for it.

For One’s Friends — Tuesday, 3rd Week of Easter

April 20, 2010

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, [than] to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Have you ever wondered if that’s true? Is that really the greatest love? Wouldn’t it be greater for someone to lay down their life for their enemies? No, for I tell to you that no one can do this. It is impossible to lay down your life for an enemy. You can only lay down your life for people you love.

St. Stephen, like the Savior he followed, loved those who killed him. Stephen’s murders hated him, but he did not hate them in return. He was their enemy, but they were not his. Stephen loved them enough to challenge and correct them, but this made them very angry. Before dying, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He was acting with mercy, generosity, and prayer in imitation of Jesus Christ, his role-model.

In this community, I do not feel that we are plagued with the disease of hatred: hatred for others, hatred for classmates, or hatred for God. But I do fear that we are infected by indifference: indifference towards each other, indifference towards those in need, and indifference towards God. I challenge you: in the past week what have you done to be more merciful, more generous, or more prayerful?

St. Stephen had mercy, generosity, and prayers for those who hated him. St. Augustine wrote that if it had not been for this, that young man named Saul who was guarding the cloaks, consenting to the execution, would not have later converted to become St. Paul, the great apostle. If St. Stephen overcame hatred and did this, imagine what overcoming our indifference could do?

We may not necessarily have to die as bloodied martyrs, like St. Stephen did, but Jesus asks each of us to lay down our lives for our friends.