This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Boko Haram murders Christian worshippers in Nigeria
17 Now after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king listened to them. 18They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. 19Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord; they testified against them, but they would not listen.
20 Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he stood above the people and said to them, ‘Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has also forsaken you.’ 21But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. 22King 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 5: 51-58
51Stephen continued, ‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are for ever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.’
54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 9While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. 81And Saul approved of their killing him.
It would be easy to apply these passages to the killing of more than twenty Christian worshippers in Nigeria yesterday at the hands of Boko Haram, a bunch of thugs who profess Islam. There have been are other Nigerian thugs who professed Christianity. The professed faith of thugs is never of any importance; it only dishonours their religion. The faith of their victims is, however, important as it sustains them in their dying moments and comforts their families in bereavement.
Sometimes, as in the case of the two readings for today, the Feast of Stephen, the faith of the victim is what makes them a victim in the first place. Scorning all safety, these two men speak the truth where it is not wanted. In both cases the victim is stoned in order to shut him up. The murderers’ anger testifies to their knowledge that unwelcome truth has been spoken. In the case of Stephen his killers cover their ears, as a sign that that they will not listen. The name Boko Haram, which means “Ban non-Islamic truth,” also gives the game away.
This brings us to the recognition that the prophet attacks the real and often undeclared religion of the oppressors: the idolatry of King Joash and the establishment faith of the Jewish Council that murdered Stephen. In these cases the martyr is a witness (Greek “martur”) to the truth as well as a victim of human violence.
St Stephen’s day might be an occasion for asking ourselves about the “truth we don’t want to hear”. It may be a truth about our idolatry, as in the case of Joash; or about the corruption of our religion, as in the case of the Jewish Council. It could also be a challenge to our fixed view of the world, in which case we could resolve that throughout 2012 we would use daily at least one news provider which does not reflect our own prejudice.
As for the thugs, well, the Stephen story reminds us that one of greatest saints of Christianity, St Paul (Saul), was once a thug. Those who do terrible things through their own refusal of the truth, can be changed utterly when they accept it. Zechariah dies with a prayer for vengeance on his lips, Stephen with a prayer of forgiveness, which the author wants us to see answered in the conversion of Saul. The prayer for vengeance, although completely understandable, is ultimately a misunderstanding of the truth for which the martyr lays down his life. Stephen had learned from Jesus of Nazareth that the martyr lays down his life out of love for his enemies as well as his friends.
Our prayers and our political intercessions should be made for all people in Nigeria who are persecuted for their faith.
TOTALLY NEW AND UNSPOILED! ONLY ON THIS SITE! ONCE A WEEK ON FRIDAYS! YES, IT”S
THE WWJD PROBLEM PAGE
WHATEVER YOUR SITUATION, IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT JESUS WOULD DO, JUST ASK! THIS IS NOT A JOKE-IT’S A MINISTRY WITH HUMOUR. BE READY FOR GOOD NEWS-if you’ve poor self-image, get humiliated, sin frequently, are often afraid, suffer from depression, have a modest life-style, enjoy a bit of fun-BUT IF YOU ARE-a rich, self-righteous, power-loving, bigoted thug- BETTER WATCH YOUR ASS!
JESUS SAYS, “WRITE TO ME VIA MY SECRETARY AT firstname.lastname@example.org. YOUR ANONYMITY IS GUARANTEED. READERS, PLEASE USE THE COMMENT SPACE TO SHARE IN THIS MINISTRY.