Saturday, 16 April 2016

Acts 7 - The trial and stoning of St Stephen

Sant Joan de Boí - lapidació de sant Esteve al MNAC.jpg
Lapidació de Sant Esteve, fresco, Church of  Sant Joan de Boí 

Acts 7 is entirely devoted to St Stephen's trial and martyrdom.  Most of the text is his response to his accusers, in the form of a summary of selected episodes of salvation history, and how it relates to the coming of Jesus.

Abraham to Jacob:
1 Then the high priest asked, Are these charges true? 2 And he answered, Brethren and fathers, listen to me. When the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, it was while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he took up his dwelling in Charan. 3 Leave thy country, he said, and thy kindred, and come to the land to which I direct thee.4 So it was that he left the country of the Chaldaeans, and lived in Charan; it was only after his father’s death that he was bidden to remove thence into this land where you now dwell. 5 There, God gave him no inheritance, not so much as a foot’s space; he only promised the possession of it to him and to his posterity after him, although at this time he had no child. 6 And this is what God told him, that his descendants would live as strangers in a foreign land, where they would be enslaved and ill-used for four hundred years. 7 But I will pass judgement, the Lord said, on the nation which enslaves them; and at last they will escape, and settle down to worship me here.8 Then he made a covenant with Abraham, the covenant that ordained circumcision. So it was that he became the father of Isaac, whom he circumcised seven days afterwards, and Isaac of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
Chrysostom (Homily 15): He shows here, that the promise was made before the Place, before Circumcision, before Sacrifice, before the Temple, and that it was not of their merit that these received either Circumcision or Law, but that the land was the reward of obedience alone. Moreover, that neither on the giving of circumcision does the promise receive its fulfillment.

Also, that these were figures, and (so was) both the leaving his country at God's command— not against the law (for home and country is where God shall lead) must do as God bids, whatever hardships be the consequence; since the Patriarch left both the grave of his father and all that he had, in obedience to God's command...

It is a contest, this life present: if so, to fight is our business now: it is war and battle. In war one does not seek to have rest, in war one does not seek to have dainty living, one is not anxious about riches, one's care is not about a wife then: one thing only he looks at, how he may overcome his foes. Be this our care likewise: if we overcome, and return with the victory, God will give us all things. Be this alone our study, how we may overcome the devil: though after all it is not our own study that does it, but God's grace does the whole business. Be it our one study, how we may attract His grace, how we may draw to ourselves that assistance.

9 The patriarchs, out of jealousy, sold Joseph as a slave, to be taken to Egypt. In Egypt, God was with him; 10 he rescued him from all his afflictions, and won him favour and a name for wisdom with Pharao, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all the royal household. 11 And now a famine came upon all Egypt and Chanaan, cruelly afflicting them, till our fathers could procure no food. 12 So Jacob, hearing that there was corn in Egypt, sent out our fathers on their first journey; 13 and on their second journey Joseph made himself known to them, and Pharao learned about Joseph’s kindred. 14 Then Joseph sent for his father Jacob, and for his family, seventy-five souls in all; 15 and Jacob went down into Egypt, where he and our fathers died. 16 They were removed afterwards to Sichem; and it was in the grave which Abraham had bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hemor, the man of Sichem, that they were buried. 
Chyrsostom (Homily 16): Here again, the type of Christ. Though they had no fault to find with him, and though he came on purpose to bring them their food, they thus ill-treated him. Still here again the promise, though it is a long while first, receives its fulfillment.

 Moses' birth and upbringing:
17 And when the time drew near for the fulfilment of the promise which God had made to Abraham, the people had increased and multiplied in Egypt. 18 And now a new king arose in Egypt, one who knew nothing of Joseph; 19 this king dealt treacherously with our race, using them so ill that they exposed their children, instead of rearing them. 20 It was at this time that Moses was born, and, finding favour with God, was brought up in his father’s house for three months; 21 then, when he had been exposed, he was rescued by Pharao’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. 22 Thus Moses was well trained in all the learning of the Egyptians; he was vigorous, too, in speech and in act.

 Chyrsostom: ... here again is another circumstance more wonderful still, that the king nourished the very person who was to overthrow his dominion, being himself the person that was to perish. Do you observe all along a figurative enacting, so to say, of the resurrection of the dead? But it is not the same thing for God himself to do a thing, and for a thing to come to pass in connection with man's purpose (προαίρεσις). For these things indeed were in connection with man's purpose [but the Resurrection by itself, independently.]
23 And now, when he had reached forty years of age, it came into his mind to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. 24 When he saw one of them being unjustly used, he came to the rescue and avenged the man who was wronged, by killing the Egyptian. 25 He expected them to understand, but they could not understand, that he was the means by which God was to bring them deliverance. 26 Next day, he came in sight when two of them were quarrelling, and tried to restore peace between them; Sirs, he said, you are brethren; why do you inflict injury on one another? 27 Whereupon the man who was doing his neighbour a wrong thrust him aside, asking, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Art thou ready to kill me, as thou didst kill the Egyptian yesterday? 29 And at that Moses fled, and lived as an exile in the land of Madian; it was there that two sons were born to him.30 Forty years later, a vision came to him in the wilderness of mount Sinai; a bush had caught fire; and an angel was standing among the flames. 31 Moses saw it, and was astonished at the sight; and as he drew near to look, the voice of the Lord came to him, 32 I am the God of thy fathers, of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. And Moses did not dare to look close; fear made him tremble. 33 Then the Lord said to him, Take the shoes off thy feet; the place on which thou standest is holy ground. 34 The affliction of my people in Egypt is before my eyes continually; I have heard their lamenting, and have come down to deliver them. Come now, I have an errand for thee in Egypt. 35 It was this same Moses, the man whom they had disowned, and asked him, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? that God sent to be their ruler and their deliverer, helped by the angel whom he saw there at the bush. 36 He it was who led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt, and at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness, over a space of forty years.
Moses' prophesy and the people's rebellion:
37 It was this Moses who said to the children of Israel, The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among your own brethren; to him you must listen. 38 He it was who took part with the angel that spoke to him on mount Sinai, and with our fathers, at the meeting in the desert. There he received words of life to hand on to us; 39 and yet our fathers would not give him obedience. They disowned him; they turned their thoughts towards Egypt, 40 and said to Aaron, Make us gods, to lead our march; as for this Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, there is no saying what has become of him. 41 So they fashioned a calf at this time, making offerings to an idol, and keeping holiday over the works of their own hands. 42 Whereupon God turned away from them, and gave them over to the worship of all the host of heaven; so it is written in the book of the prophets, Is it true that you brought me victims and sacrifices, you sons of Israel, for forty years in the wilderness? 43 You carried about the tent of Moloch, and the star of your god Rempham, and worshipped them, images of your own fashioning. And now I will send you into exile on the further side of Babylon.
The tabernacle and the temple:
44 In the wilderness, our fathers had the tabernacle with them, to remind them of God’s covenant; he who spoke to Moses bade him fashion it after the model which had been shewn him. 45 And when God dispossessed the Gentiles, to make room for our fathers’ coming, our fathers under Josue brought this tabernacle, as an heirloom, into the land which they conquered. So it was until the time of David. 46 David, who had won favour in God’s sight, longed to devise a resting-place for the God of Israel, 47 but in the end it was Solomon that built the house for him. 48 Yet we are not to think that the most High dwells in temples made by men’s hands; the prophet says: 49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is the footstool under my feet. What home will you build for me, says the Lord, what place can be my resting-place? 50 Was it not my hands that made all this?
The persecution of the prophets:
51 Stiff-necked race, your heart and ears still uncircumcised, you are for ever resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your fathers did. 52 There was not one of the prophets they did not persecute; it was death to foretell the coming of that just man, whom you in these times have betrayed and murdered; 53 you, who received the law dictated by angels, and did not keep it.54 At hearing this, they were cut to the heart, and began to gnash their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on heaven, and saw there the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand; I see heaven opening, he said, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.
Chrysostom: Such is the boldness of speech of a man bearing the Cross. Let us then also imitate this: though it be not a time of war, yet it is always the time for boldness of speech. For, I spoke, says one, in Your testimonies before kings, and was not ashamed. Psalm 119:46 If we chance to be among heathens, let us thus stop their mouths. without wrath, without harshness...

 The stoning of Stephen:
56 Then they cried aloud, and put their fingers into their ears; with one accord they fell upon him, 57 thrust him out of the city, and stoned him. And the witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 58 Thus they stoned Stephen; he, meanwhile, was praying; Lord Jesus, he said, receive my spirit; 59 and then, kneeling down, he cried aloud, Lord, do not count this sin against them. And with that, he fell asleep in the Lord.Saul was one of those who gave their voices for his murder.
Chrysostom  Homily 18: Wherefore, as they attempted, besides killing him, to hurt his reputation also, they were cut to the heart. For they were afraid lest he should on the contrary become an object of even greater reverence. Therefore, just what they did in Christ's case, the same they do here also...

Observe how particularly he relates what concerns Paul, to show you that the Power which wrought in him was of God. But after all these things, not only did he not believe, but also aimed at Him with a thousand hands: for this is why it says, And Saul was consenting unto his death.— And this blessed man does not simply pray, but does it with earnestness: having kneeled down. Mark his divine death! So long only the Lord permitted the soul to remain in him. And having said this, he fell asleep. 

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