Psalm 31:3cd-4, 6 and 7b and 8a, 17 and 21ab
Filled with grace and power, Stephen spoke before the high priest and interpreted the history of Israel, beginning with Abraham. His goal was to show historical episodes of resistance or opposition to the Holy Spirit and how the temple worship has come to an end after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.
The story of Abraham reveals that God can act outside Jerusalem and its temple: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was in Mesopotamia” (Acts 7:2). The story of Joseph “emphasizes how God used the evil done to Joseph by his brothers to bring salvation from famine for those same brothers. It clearly serves as a foreshadowing of Christ’s passion, in which God used the far greater evil done to Jesus to bring a far greater salvation to the very people who killed him” (Kurz, Acts of the Apostles, Baker, 120). God uses the crime of Joseph’s brothers to save his brothers and their families. Stephen also says that Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him during their first visit, implying that the Jewish people did not recognize Jesus during his public ministry. During their second visit, Joseph’s brothers recognize him; likewise the Jewish people have the opportunity to recognize the presence of Jesus in his disciples (Kurz, Acts of the Apostles, Baker, 121).
Stephen then turns to the story of Moses. He first reinterprets Moses’ killing of the Egyptian as Moses assuming that the people will understand that God was offering them deliverance through him. Moses is rejected on the following day, since the people did not understand, and flees to the land of Midian. Jesus is the prophet like Moses who was also rejected by the people and misunderstood by the people (Luke 19:41-44) during his public ministry.
Forty years after killing the Egyptian, Moses is called by God to save the people. In the desert he is again rejected by the people. William Kurz comments: “Like Moses, Jesus took action to save his people a second time after their first rejection of him. Jesus’ second attempt to save his people is through his witnesses, who are empowered by the Holy Spirit after his resurrection (Acts of the Apostles, 126).
According to Stephen, an angel gave the law to Moses on Mount Sinai; but the people did not observe the law (7:53). What is implied is that Jesus, as the Son of God, has given a new law to the new people of God and that this law is greater than that given by angels through Moses. The stakes in rejecting or not observing this new law are higher.
In the last part of his discourse, Stephen refers to the book of the twelve prophets and quotes Amos 5:25-27. This passage reveals that Israel fell into idolatry time and time again. Stephen contrasts the tent of the false god Moloch with the tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant in the desert. David’s son, Solomon, will eventually build the temple for God, but Stephen argues that God does not need Solomon’s building: “The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands” (7:48).
Stephen has argued explicitly that the people have opposed the Holy Spirit just like their ancestors. Implicitly he is arguing that the law of Moses and the temple of Solomon have been surpassed by Jesus, who gives the new law and whose risen body is the new temple. Stephen’s preaching infuriates the Jews. Only when Stephen speaks to them of his heavenly vision of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, do the people cover their ears so as not to hear the blasphemy and throw Stephen outside the city and stone him. Just as Jesus forgives the people on account of their ignorance and commends his spirit to the Father as he is crucified to death, so does Stephen forgive those who kill him and commend his spirit to the Lord Jesus as he is stoned to death.
In the Gospel, the crowd continues to press Jesus for more signs. They recall the manna Moses provided for their ancestors in the desert and want Jesus to do something similar. Jesus corrects them and says that God the Father, not Moses, provided the bread from heaven. Jesus promises that his Father will give them the heavenly bread which gives life. This heavenly bread is nothing other than Jesus himself as he declares: “I am the bread of life”.
Throughout the Old Testament there are foreshadowing of gift of the Eucharist: the sacrifice of bread and wine offered by the priest Melchizedek, the manna in the desert, and the bread of the presence in the temple sanctuary. The Eucharist fills us with God’s grace and enables us to collaborate with the Holy Spirit and not oppose his action in our lives. The Eucharist is also the Sacrament of the New Law given by Jesus. The Eucharist is the pure sacrifice acceptable to God and is celebrated throughout the world, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Finally, the Eucharist is the Bread that gives us eternal life.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at email@example.com.