As today’s reading opens, Stephen has been arrested for his open association with Jesus Christ. In the eyes of many of his contemporaries, this made him seem like an enemy of the temple, the tradition of Moses, and indeed of God himself. Just like Jesus before him, he too is being tried for blasphemy.
It is perhaps worth noting right off the bat how Stephen addresses his accusers. “Brothers and fathers,” he says. In other words, he is not defiant or disrespectful. He understands his connection to them even if they do not recognize their connection to him.
I don’t think these are empty words or political maneuvering. Believing the best in love, “Brothers and fathers” is genuinely how Stephen chooses to see his opponents.
Interestingly, it doesn’t cause him to hold back or “dumb down” the truth. The Old Testament stories Stephen chooses in these verses tell that God is not tied down to a specific location such as a land or building, and shows how He has worked to save His people through the unexpected means of a misunderstood and persecuted person.
The parallels to Jesus and his message are obvious, and they will not be missed.
We often see Stephen as a bold witness for Jesus, and he was. But I think it is important that we also see him as a loving witness as well. His love was expressed both in his attitude and in his willingness to tell the truth, each complementing the other.
May we do no less.
Even when we disagree—particularly when we disagree!—may we treat one another with love, as sisters and mothers, brothers and fathers. And then, graciously and respectfully as we would with our mother or father, sister or brother, may we not shrink back from speaking the truth—even when the truth may be hard to hear and when doing so may come at great personal cost.
Both love and truth go hand in hand, and I’d suggest that either one without the other is not a truly Christian witness.