Summary: We need to consider the early Church’s message to their elder brothers, the Jews, and our attitude of love for them today.
December 26, 2009
St. Stephen, protomartyr
Once the Church of the first decade accepted the reality that the scandalous execution of the Messiah, Jesus, was really the beginning of the transformation of man into the obedient child of God, a new scandal occupied their attention. And so, with the Feast of St. Stephen right after Christmas, we are annually brought face to face with that scandal, one that continues today. The Jewish Messiah, son of a Jewish mother and a Jewish foster-father, who was circumcised on the eighth day, made a kind of bar mitzvah at twelve, preached the Ten Commandments and the great twin commandment of Torah to love God and love neighbor, healed thousands of Jewish men, women and children, raised at least three Jews from the dead and kept the feasts of the Law, was rejected by most of the Jews. Moreover, as this feast demonstrates, that rejection extended to His disciples, His assembly, the Church. And it continues today.
The complete reading of Stephen’s speech is not here in the Acts. It is the longest speech in the Acts of Apostles. It holds nothing back, but rather develops the meaning of the word “Israel,” God-fighter, in excruciating detail. But if we read it rightly, and Paul’s impassioned words in Romans and Galatians, and the letter to the Hebrews, we see that the attitude of the early Church, one we should have as well, is not anti-Semitic. It is the attitude of a younger brother, all grown up, who sees the path his elder brother has taken, away from the family, and grieves for him. The younger brother or sister, the Church, grieves for those who are anti-Christian. We are, as Pius XI said, “spiritual Semites.” We cannot be anti-Semitic, even if we stand against what the Jewish religion professes because we accept Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Son of God.
I have a dog in this hunt, as we say in South Texas. A Jewish man gave me my first break. If he hadn’t, my life would have started out behind the eight ball, because of an illegal action done by someone else. This Jewish freemason saved me, and I’ll pray for his soul always. But I also remember standing in the winter cold outside Temple Beth-el, alone with my sign saying “Shame” as Rabbi Block, a long-time supporter of Planned Parenthood, hosted the rebel ex-priest Dan Maguire as he peddled his book extolling abortion and claiming that all religions have always accepted the murder of babies as right and good.
What should we do, then, as spiritual Semites? First and foremost, we must imitate Stephen, who loved those who stoned him to death. Different inflection: who loved to death those who stoned him. He, like Jesus on the cross, prayed for his executioners, prayed to Jesus as God for them, infuriating them even as he prayed. And Jesus heard their prayer, and made one of those complicite in his death to be the great apostle to both Jew and Gentile, Paul.
Second, we must be careful not to love the Jews wrongly, by standing by as some of them, who have evil intent, make us want to abandon the Holy Gospel. We owe it to our elder brothers to witness the reality of the Messiah to them, whenever we have the chance. We must uphold the moral teachings of the Church when some of them want to change the law of our land to call evil good.
And, third, we must pray for the conversion of Jew and Gentile and secularist to the faith established by the Messiah. Jew and Muslim are locked in a death grip, each believing that God has ordained the destruction of the other. Here the witness of our fellow Catholics in the Holy Land is very helpful. They stand between Jew and Muslim daily. Christians must witness to the love of God for all humans, and bring them both to see the light of Christ shining in the world, by being good ourselves and rejecting violence. Then will the death of Stephen bear its ultimate fruit, when Jew and Muslim and Christian can in one brotherhood live in peace in the love of the one true God.