As I read the Morning Office of the Common Book of Prayer, the difference in response between the martyrdom of Zechariah, son of the priest Jehoiada (don’t confuse with John the Baptist’s father) and that of Stephen is striking.
2 Chronicles 24:17-22 (context):
21 But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD. 22 King Joash did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son. As he was dying, he said, “May the LORD see and avenge!”
Acts 7: 1-59 (context):
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Why is this so? I posit it is because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. During Zecharah’s time (before and after), prophets admonished the people to return to God and His ways; sometimes they did, sometimes they refused or said they would and did not (sound familiar?). Despite a history of miracles, the trust in God was tenuous, until He poured himself into human form and demonstrated as a Man how He wanted us to live and worship. That human form was Jesus Christ. Because of the genuine hope held by Stephen, he was able to ask for forgiveness, not revenge, just as Christ did on the cross.
Go and do likewise.
- Prayer on the Feast Day of St Stephen (prayers4reparation.wordpress.com)
- St Stephen (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)