On the Feast of St. Stephen I always like to say a word for the men who stoned him. Sure, they did a terrible thing, but their religious convictions made them feel they were doing the right thing.
St. Luke in his “Act of the Apostles” identified Stephen’s killers as “members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen.” He went on to say they were Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia.
Let’s look at the way their synagogue came about. Rome had a way for preventing rebellion from the Jews scattered around all of the Mediterranean’s ports. Rome rounded up five young Jews from each place, confining them as hostage in Rome for five years. The threat of executing those boys kept the people at home from rebelling.
The boys chosen as hostages were not very religious to begin with, but after being confined for their beliefs, they usually began taking those beliefs more seriously. Many of them became so religious that when their five years were up, instead of returning to their homes, they settled in Jerusalem to take part in the temple worship. They formed their own “Synagogue of the Roman Freedmen.”
They had come to believe that being religious meant observing kosher, and they were angered by Stephen who was telling people that observing kosher wasn’t all that important.
Of course it was wrong for them to stone Stephen, but God, knowing their good intentions, might have forgiven them.
One thing that inclines us to be understanding of their motives is the fact that their was a young man watching over the coats they took off to throw better. That young man who was encouraging them was Saul, the future St. Paul.
The case of Saul and those young men should warn us against hating people for views they ling to in all honesty.