The Gospel Today
Feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.
When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
Reflection (Sem. Mark Abu):
Today’s Gospel talks about the coming persecutions to those who choose to follow the Lord. Jesus warned His apostles to be very vigilant and prepared for there will be people who will hand them to the courts and judges to scourge and let them suffer. He added that even their own family: their parents and brothers and sisters will hate and put them to death. All these things would happen because they are followers of Jesus; because they choose to live a life like that of their Master and opted to be witnesses to the truth. Reading this Gospel passage led me to ask myself if I still want and am ready to follow Jesus in this kind of life – the priesthood. I evaluated myself and my willingness to live the life that Christ lived – a life of suffering and persecution. I even doubted being hated by my family will be possible in this kind of life and vocation that I am preparing to embrace. In short, reading this Gospel made me preoccupied with many anxieties that I feel are very important to consider.
This is our initial reaction when we face uncertain realities in life. We tend to rationalize everything and sometimes even becoming over-reactive to things that are still to come and things that have not even happened to us yet. We normally do this when we think our security is being challenged or put into danger. Selfish as it may sound but we are always after those things, events or people who will not bring us any harm; instead will lead us to safety and well being. As much as possible we want to avoid sad, fearful or dangerous situation of life. We desire and wish that our life will always be smooth-sailing and without any problem so that we will not be anxious of anything. On occasions like these, we immediately run and call unto God; either we will go to oratories and places of prayer or we will make novenas and make series of petitions asking the Lord to spare us from these sufferings. Yet even in asking for help we focus our attention to the problem and very rarely look on the things that God provides for us. We tend to direct ourselves on the conflict and not on the remedies which God sends to us; these may be particular events or things we have or even people who are here with us already. All we need are open eyes and heart in order to recognize the providential hands and merciful heart of God.
In reading the Gospel today I realized that I failed to focus on the things that God will provide whenever I will be in situations like persecutions and sufferings. I just diverted my attention from the problems that might occur once I have decided to follow the Lord in this kind of life. I almost ignored the promises of Christ whenever painful and challenging moments in my life come. He has assured me that I should not worry about what to say or to defend myself in front of the persecutors because He will be sending the Holy Spirit to speak for me. Can you imagine how great a privilege it would be to be a spoke person of the Spirit of God? And when the time comes that even my family will “hand me over to death”, I must not be afraid because of the assurance of Jesus that whoever endures all these sufferings until the end will receive a reward which is salvation. This reward, for sure, will be great because He is the only one who can grant this.
Today, the whole Church commemorates the shedding of blood of the first martyr of our faith – St. Stephen. He is one of the first seven deacons mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. Given the freedom, he could have renounced the faith and live but he chose to be martyred and offered his life for the sake of Christ. The persecution of St. Stephen was more than the sufferings that the Gospel for today were mentioning; but this first martyr of our faith chose not to focus on the challenges instead he channeled his gaze on the glory that awaits for him in heaven. Now, this great saint enjoys heaven with Jesus – the reward of being faithful until the end even it entailed the offering of oneself.
Jesus himself endured all the pains and suffering and eventually died on the cross for our salvation. We, as servants of Christ, are being reminded that as He chose to embrace the cross we are invited to do the same in our little ways of witnessing to our faith in our everyday living.