Gospel: Mt 10:17-22
Be on your guard with people, for they will hand you over to their courts, and they will flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings because of me, so that you may witness to them and the pagans.
But when you are arrested, do not worry about what you are to say, or how you are to say it; when the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father, speaking through you.
Brother will hand over his brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.
Today’s first reading describes the heroic death of the first martyr or protomartyr, Stephen.
One of the striking things about Stephen is his close resemblance to Jesus. He died as Jesus died, namely, falsely accused of blasphemy (Mt 26:65; Acts 6:11), yet like Jesus he merely spoke the truth. Like Jesus, too, he prayed and recommended his spirit at the moment of his death. And, always like Jesus, he forgave his enemies: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
Another striking thing about this story is the mention of the future apostle Paul (then still called Saul). The text says that the ones stoning Stephen to death “laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul,” and that “Saul was consenting to (Stephen’s) execution” (Acts 7:58; 6:1). It is as if God was already preparing the replacement of Stephen by another intrepid preacher of the Gospel. And, like Stephen, Saul/ Paul will seal his proclamation of Jesus with martyrdom some 30 years later.
Why the feast of a martyr on the day following Christmas? Perhaps to tell us that, if we choose the Baby of Bethlehem, we also choose his Cross…