|Rembrandt, The Stoning of St. Stephen|
This scripture reading is designed to be preceded by a readers’ theater presentation of Acts
7: 5 5- 60. You can find it here.
7: 5 5- 60)
(The monologue opens with Saul reflecting at center stage about Stephen’s stoning.
He is filled with disdain and sarcasm.)
“Stephen full of grace and power,” that’s what they said about him. Sure, he did great “signs and wonders,” but who was behind it all? It wasn’t Yahweh, that’s for sure! Someone operating outside the boundaries like that, not respecting the proper channels—a sure sign that Beelzebub was involved one way or the other, and amazing that people didn’t see it from the start! I just knew he was guilty, and when we found the required number of witnesses to confirm which side he was really on, I was elated. The truth will out. The heretic group Stephen belongs to needs to be condemned promptly and brought to justice. The scourge of society, they stand against everything that’s right, following Je. . .Je. . . (unable to say the name, shudders and speaks in disgust), I can’t even say the name!
So I was feeling pretty good—we finally had this Stephen dead to rights. And we were thinking maybe the guilty verdict would start our glorious persecution off on the right foot, and then we could then go on to wipe out his whole sect and get back to the business of being good Jews. (Pauses a beat and looks perplexed). I tell you—the guy didn’t have a clue. Instead of backing off, he just kept hammering away at us. (Getting more irritated as he tries to get the wording right) He called us stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears, people who persecuted and killed the prophets of old, the ones who’d received the law but NOT kept it! We, not keep the law? Preposterous! Can you imagine invoking our prophets to perpetrate an outright lie?
(with great satisfaction) Then the straw that broke the camel’s back. He claimed to see God up in heaven with their fake Messiah, that man Jesus, at his side. (covers his ears and starts talking very loudly) At that point, the sentence went from jail to death. Really, there’s only so far you can let someone go—and then you have to stop them any way you can. So we dragged him outside of the city to stone him. It was actually more than I’d hoped for—they’d let Peter and John go once, and another time Peter actually managed to escape, but maybe this signaled that the tide was now turning in favor of us defenders of Yahweh and Yahweh’s ways.
(Removes his hands and starts motioning towards himself) You understand that for ritual reasons I couldn’t participate in the stoning myself, but I told those who could to bring me their coats and lay them at my feet. I was happy to help in any way I could, to do my part to see this heretic meet his end. After all, he was only getting what he deserved! (Pauses, then another look of confusion) But here’s the thing. . . I can’t quite forget, the thing that sometimes wakes me up at night. Clearly, Stephen was a heretic. Clearly he deserved to die. I knew that. Everyone knew that. But I just can’t make that. . .match with the words he spoke right before he died: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Do not hold this sin against them.” It doesn’t make sense. It’s like. . .like we were the ones who were doing the wrong thing. But we weren’t. We couldn’t have been. So what was he talking about? (Waving his hand in exasperation as he walks off) Ahhh!
For more worship resources for the fifth Sunday of Easter (May
2 2, 20 ), click on Easter 1 1 5 in the list of “Labels” at the lower right.