Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
One cannot help but be impressed once again by the parallelism between the Gospel of St. Luke and his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. In telling the story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, St. Luke places the same words on his lips that Jesus uttered as he hung on the cross on Calvary. There is more here than simple mimicry.
Crucifixion was considered the most ignominious way to die. There are several references in the Hebrew Scriptures to the curse that comes with being "hung upon a tree." This may seem to be a euphemism when we apply it to crucifixion. However, the phrase demonstrates once again that this culture is driven by the competing notions of shame and honor. Being executed is shameful enough. However, that shame is compounded by the mockery that is effected by hanging someone's corpse on a tree for all to see. Much the same kind of thinking was employed by other cultures which displayed on pikes the heads of people who were executed by decapitation.
On Sunday, we read in the Acts of the Apostles that the apostles were "honored" to suffer the scorn of public punishment because they regarded it as a sign that they were worthy in the eyes of God to suffer as Jesus had suffered. Stephen exhibits the same kind of thinking in repeating the words of Jesus as he is being stoned. The apostles and followers of Jesus began to understand that true honor is bestowed by God who demonstrated this definitively in raising Jesus from the dead after the most shameful manner of death. No more would they look to society for honor; no more would they be shamed by men.