Stephen asked God to forgive his killers. He prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

Our First Reading tells us of a debate between the deacon Stephen and “certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen.” Getting ahead of this story, let me remind you of how the dispute ended. Those men stoned Stephen to death; but in his last breath he prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

We should not ignore St. Stephen’s example of being understanding. In our disputes we must try following Stephen. Even when every pain of mind and body was crying out for vengeance, Stephen forced himself to remain open to the point of view of his tormenters.

Let me tell you what he knew about the members of the Synagogue of Freedmen. They were victims of a cruel hostage policy. The Romans had holding camps in Rome for Jewish teenagers from every Mediterranean city. If their families at home kept from rebelling, the young men were allowed to return home after five years. Often, though, those young men after five years of incarceration for their beliefs, had become such pious Jews, that instead of returning to Cyrene, or Cypress, or Alexandria, they congregated near the temple in Jerusalem, forming their own synagogue.

We must think of those young men as being similar to Saul. Remember how Saul, before he became Paul on  the road to Damascus, had imprisoned many Jewish Christians whom he found eating with unclean Gentiles. Like Saul, these young men were zealous for keeping the law. With that understanding, Stephen prayed for the group who were bashing him with big rocks.

We all know how the law of gravity has a rock dropping the second we let go of it. Similarly, there
is a law of human nature that causes us always to go for what seems to be good. Often evil courses of action seem to be good to us, and we blunder along with them. But, humans always deserve “the benefit of the doubt.” That is, no matter how awful we know their actions to be, we must credit them with doing what they think best.

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