GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...a few points to make about the martyrdom of St. Stephen. As we've seen in other Sundays for Easter, the reason the Church gives us readings from the Book of Acts is to show us, especially as we're preparing to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, to show us the activity of the Holy Spirit in the early days of the Christian Church. And one of the main things that the Holy Spirit does in the Church in those first decades after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection is send out evangelists, not just to proclaim the good news, but also to be witnesses to Christ. And the Greek word for witness is martus
, where we get the word martyr from. So the Book of Acts actually begins in Acts 1 with Jesus saying to the disciples:
and you shall be my witnesses [martyres
] in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samar′ia and to the end of the earth.
So in Acts 7, the account of Stephen's martyrdom, of his bearing witness to Christ even unto death, is a truly momentous event in the life of the early Church. And it's fitting that as we prepare for the Feast of Pentecost, which is going to be the coming of the Holy Spirit, that we would get this account of Stephen who was able to bear witness to Christ, even unto death. Why? Because he was”
"full of the Holy Spirit."
So that's the first point I want to make. The second point I want to make here is that the reason for Stephen's execution is the same reason Christ is executed. It's the charge of blasphemy. In this case we don't actually hear them explicitly accuse Stephen of blasphemy. But nevertheless, that is the reason that they put him to death. And you can infer it from the Jewish context for two reasons. First, when Stephen says he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God, to be at the right hand of a king implies equality and equal authority with that king. So to place Jesus at the right hand of God is a confession of his equality with God, which if he were viewed as merely human, that would be a blasphemous statement. And that's why those who are standing around Stephen, when they hear him it says they:
"stopped their ears"
So they're trying to block out the blasphemous statement that he's making about Jesus by saying he's in Heaven and at the right hand of God. The second clue to the the reason they execute him for blasphemy is because of the manner of execution, which is that they stone him to death. So if you go back to Leviticus 24, it says that anyone who blasphemes the Lord will be stoned to death. So stoning is the particular method of execution that the Scripture prescribes for the execution of a blasphemer. Now you might think, "Well, wait. Why wasn't Jesus stoned if that's the case?" Well, in Jesus' day, what happened was he was a visible enough figure where the Sanhedrin had to figure out how to have him executed in keeping with Roman Law. According to Roman Law, the Jewish leaders did not actually have the official capacity to pronounce capital punishment on in anybody. But in this case, the execution of Stephen is not an official act of the Sanhedrin it's more of what we would call mob violence. So in the heat of the moment, in the moment of his blasphemy, the mob gathers, they're going to stone him to death, and then they're going to disperse. And as anyone who's familiar with occupational authority of figures, sometimes the government looks the other way when mob violence takes place or breaks out, and especially in a spontaneous situation. So that appears to be what's happened here with Stephen.
So like Christ, he is put to death as a blasphemer. And the other final thing about Stephens martyrdom that is fascinating is that his martyrdom itself is actually configured to Christ in two ways. First, by the fact that he says of his executioners:
"Lord, do not hold this sin against them."
So this is an echo. Anyone reading Acts would recall that in the Gospel of Luke, which remember is written by the same author as Acts, Jesus says:
"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
So just as Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of his executioners, so Stephen prays for the forgiveness of his executioners. Secondly, in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus dies, he says:
"Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!"
He quotes Psalm 31, and then Stephen says something very similar, but he says:
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
Okay, so there's a Christo-morphic character to Stephen's martyrdom. Stephen is, in a sense, a new Christ. He's being conformed to Christ as a Christiano
, as a little Christ. Acts is the first book in which they were called Christians. He's being configured to Christ, not just in his life of proclaiming the good news and confessing the divinity of Jesus, but also in his death, in the very manner of his death, in the very words of his death.
So it's very fitting that in the season of Easter, as the Church is taking us on this journey through the Acts of the Apostles, that we would not just look at the evangelism of St. Peter or St. Paul. Well Paul, it's going to take him a minute, he has to get converted first. But in the first seven chapters, you have Peter and the early Jerusalem church. That climax is really with the martyrdom of Stephen. This is, in a sense, a centerpiece in the Book of Acts, where Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit, that's given a Pentecost, and configured to Christ in his death.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
This is one of the basic messages of the book of Revelation: "Behold. I am coming soon." That's a reference to the final coming, the second advent of Jesus at the end of time.
Second, notice that the Parousia... You can tell this is the Parousia that He's speaking about, and not just His coming within time, His presence with us, because He ties it to the final judgment. He says:
"I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done."
This is a reference to the final judgment. Now, notice here, this is really important for Catholics to highlight, is that over and over again, in The New Testament, although of course, we are saved by grace, salvation is a gift of God's grace. The New Testament is equally clear that we will be judged at the final judgment by works. You see this not just in the letter of St. Paul, who will talk about judgment according to works, for example, in Romans 2, but here in The Apocalypse of John, as well, where Jesus himself says:
"I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for"how he has believed?
No, that's not what he says, although obviously, faith is important, don't get me wrong. But he says:
"to repay every one for what he has done."
This is where we get the doctrine or the teaching of Judgment by Works, final judgment according to actions. It's always a both and for us as Catholics, both faith and works are crucial in the process and in the path of salvation.
A third aspect of this text that's really crucial, and for me at least, the central one I wanted to emphasize here, is its revelation of the divinity of Christ. This is something that people continue to debate. Obviously, a lot of the heresies in the early church revolved around the question of Christ's humanity and divinity, the fullness of His humanity, the fullness of His divinity. What's important to emphasize here is that the divinity of Christ is not just something revealed by Jesus Himself, it is, in the Gospels, or taught by apostles like Paul, which he does. For example, in Philippians 2 he's real clear about this. But also in The Apocalypse of John, the book of Revelation is one of the clearest witnesses to the fullness of Jesus' divinity, because in the Apocalypse of John, the risen Christ talks about His divinity in ways that are very, very explicit.
I don't know if you have, like I did when I was confirmed, I received a what they call a red letter Bible. It was a Catholic Bible, but the words of Christ were printed in red. You could always find the gospels very easily just by seeing the red letters because that's where Jesus spoke. But one of the things I noticed early on when I was reading my Bible was that there were red letters not just in the gospel, there was one other place where there were read letters, and that's in the book of Revelation, because John hears the words, not of the earthly Christ during His public ministry, but of the risen Christ during His heavenly glory. Christ here is speaking to John about His own identity. He's not just revealing that He's coming soon. He also reveals the nature of His divinity, and this is what he says:
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
To a contemporary Gentile reader, you might not hear the words, "I am God" when you read those words, but to an ancient Jewish reader, as well as an ancient Greek speaker, this is actually going to be fairly clear because of what these words imply. When Jesus says He's the Alpha and He's the Omega, those are a reference to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Just as the English alphabet begins with A and ends with Z, so too the ancient Greek alphabet began with an alpha and then ended with the letter omega. It's a powerful way of emphasizing first and last, like we will say, "From A to Z" as a metaphor for, "From the beginning to the end". Jesus says here alpha and omega.
Then of course He makes that clear by saying I’m:
"the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
Now, with that expression, John is alluding to a passage in the Old Testament— surprise—that gives it a deeper meaning. If you go back to Isaiah, the book of Isaiah 44:6 you'll read these words:
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
When the risen Jesus speaks to John and says, "I am the first and the last", He's taking the Words of God from the book of Isaiah 44 and then making them his own words. If you're a Jew and you know the context, the original context of that declaration, "I am the first and the last", you'll realize it's one of the most explicit oracles about what we call monotheism. In other words, the God of the Old Testament is saying, "I'm the first and the last, because I'm the only true God. There is no other God beside me". And yet here we have Jesus of Nazareth, who's also fully human, but has now risen, speaking to John, the author of the Apocalypse and saying:
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
What this means, this is beautiful and powerful, is that the risen Christ in the Apocalypse is both affirming His divinity and doing so in the context of an illusion to an affirmation of monotheism in the book of Isaiah. At the same time that He's revealing His divinity, He's also safeguarding the oneness of God, that Jesus is not another God in addition to the God of the Old Testament. Jesus is not another deity in addition to the God of Israel. He is both somehow fully human and fully God, such that we can speak of one God in more than one person. And if you have any doubts about that, you can actually look at the way this language is used throughout The Book of Revelation.
For example, if you look at this chart, you'll see the parallels really clear that throughout the book of Revelation, God will speak about His identity and divinity. Then, the risen Christ will speak about His identity and divinity using the exact same words. For example, in Revelation 1:8 God says:
the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Then in 1:17 Christ says:
the first and the last, the living one”
Then again in Revelation 21:6, God, who is sitting on the throne, God the Father says:
the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
And then in Revelation 22:13, Christ, the risen Christ says:
the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
So which is it is? Is God the Father Alpha and Omega, or is it Christ? Is God the Father the First and the Last, or is it Christ? The answer is of course, yes, both of those are true because what's being revealed in this final passage from the book of Revelation is nothing less than the mystery of Jesus' divinity. It's revealing to us that the divinity of Christ is not the divinity of another deity in addition to the one God, but rather of the Son who is one with the Father, to use the language of later Trinitarian dogma.
It's very powerful and very significant, in other words, that the entire Bible and the book of Revelation ends with the revelation of Jesus' divinity, and not just any kind of divinity, but His eternal divinity. He's not a man who is made God. He is God from all eternity. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Beginning and the End. His divine person has no beginning and has no end. Now that divine person is going to be united to a human nature in time, but the person of Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of the Father. It's the eternal divinity of Jesus that's being revealed here.
That's very important because as you'll see, when you get to the saints, the writings of the saints, they're going to talk about our becoming partakers of the divine nature. That in Christ we've all become partakers of the divine nature or the divinization or theosis of Christians. You'll see this in the 2 Peter, but also in the writings of the early Church fathers.
It's always important to emphasize that when the fathers and saints talk about our divinization, they mean that we remain human persons, but we become partakers of the divine nature, but with Christ. He is a divine person for all eternity who assumes the human nature and then allows that human nature to be put to death, raised up and glorified.For full access subscribe here >