Knowing that his persecutors meant well, a dying Stephen prayed, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."

Monday, 4/15/13

The story of St. Stephen presents us with a lesson in exercising the Gift of Understanding.

Stephen’s opponents were men from what was called the Synagogue of the Roman Freedmen. Let’s look into that. Jewish traders and moneylenders had established themselves in every outpost of the Roman Empire. And, to control that Diaspora, Rome had developed the practices of taking a few young Jews from each place, confining them in Rome for five years each. Rome treated those young hostages well enough, while letting their parents know that the boys lives would be taken if there was any trouble in the outposts the boys came from.

The hostages usually were not especially religious youths, but since their religion was the cause of their detention, they became more devout during their five years in Rome. As a result, on completing their five years, some of them chose to settle in Jerusalem to take active part in the temple rituals.  They became strict observers of all the laws, dietary and otherwise. They objected heartily to the way the Jews who had become Christians were flaunting some of the rules. Like, they were actually  sitting down and eating with those unclean Gentile Christians. 

Stephen went right into their ultra conservative synagogue, trying to get them to see how Jesus was following the Father by being brotherly even with unclean Gentiles. Still, Stephen knew those young men well: he knew that they were incapable of turning aside, from their conservative ways. On seeing that their misplaced zeal was  unshakeable Stephen bowed to the unavoidable. In death he prayed, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”

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