What must we do? The question is simple and yet very complex in that it reveals a certain mindset among the Jews who are listening to the words of Jesus as he begins what we call the Discourse on the Bread of Life. What must we do? Jesus' answer is startling. All we need do is believe. Jesus answers their simple question with a simple answer; and yet like the question, it too is more complex than it seems.
What must we do? We human beings find great worth in what we do. Some actually define their worth by their ability to act, to accomplish, to do. Upon meeting someone for the first time, we often ask the question: "What do you do?" Imagine the surprise we would evoke if we answered, "I believe in the One God sent." Undoubtedly, we would be asked to clarify our answer.
The first reading for today's liturgy presents us with the beginning of the passion of St. Stephen. He is brought before the same tribunal which had condemned Jesus and he is accused of the same "crime" as was Jesus. As they gazed upon him, the sacred author tells us that his face was like that of an angel. Undoubtedly Stephen understood what was happening. He was walking the very same path that had been trod by Jesus himself. In that realization he, like the other disciples, found joy in the knowledge that he had been found worthy to suffer as Jesus had suffered.
Both the men who question Jesus in the Gospel and the council which questions Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles are guilty of the same thing. They are unable to believe. They cannot understand that Stephen's faith has been acted out by feeding the widows and orphans in their midst. They fail to realize that Stephen is simply fulfilling the dictates of the Sinai covenant and in the words of his Master. His faith had found expression in his deeds; but he was being tried for his faith rather than for his deeds. Like Jesus, they accuse him of claiming that Jesus would destroy the Temple and destroy the customs of Moses. Yet all that Stephen had been doing was exactly what Moses had dictated. The Sinai covenant asked that the people place their faith only in God and that they care for the widows and orphans in their midst. The irony of the trial is astounding.
Stephen is the true believer whose actions, rather than his words, exemplify his faith. It isn't what he does that is so important so much as what he believes.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator