Take your kids or youth group into McDonald's. When they pile back into the car, have each person tell what they saw. Phrase it: “What’s one thing did you see that you didn’t expect to see?” or “What is something you saw that no one else saw?” The punchline of the story of the stoning of Stephen is found in what he saw. Stephen says, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This wasn’t what others expected Stephen to see. It wasn’t what they saw. The young pharisee named Saul, for one, saw to it that no one stole anyone’s coats. He saw an execution go according to plan. Good thing for Stephen, this wasn’t Texas.
It may be fun to remind today’s church goers how similar their vision is to that of the crowd that stoned Stephen. What the elders of Israel saw were the political realities. The Romans needed to be assured that Judaism was a stable religion and that its holy city could be kept under Sanhedrin control. They saw Christianity as a disruptive force, similar to the zealot movement causing trouble in the highlands. They saw people of the town speaking well of these Christians because they were feeding the poor and bringing healing to those who were distressed.
They saw Stephen, a deacon, tirelessly serving the needs of those the Sanhedrin had forgotten. What they wanted to see was Stephen funneling new converts into their folds. They asked Stephen to encouraging people to donate to the the temple building fund, and he refused. In many congregations today, Stephen type leaders are viewed with suspicion.
The other thing political leaders often fail to see is the briefness of their current situation. In a few decades, the Romans will destroy Jerusalem. In a short while, it won’t matter who was certified, approved, ordained, or given an advance degree from Harvard. The first century religious leaders of that place, were given a brief moment on the stage of world history. Crowds from all over the world came to Jerusalem to worship in the temple and celebrate the festivals. How these elders treated those strangers could make a real difference in the propagation of healthy spirituality and koine love. These stone throwers didn’t see the gift that they had been given.
This is why St. Stephen’s vision is so meaningful. He sees Jesus who is the lord of human history. He sees the one who has given each of us our unique giftedness to be a blessing to the world. Our time will pass quickly. The organizations that we have joined will fade away. Nothing remains, but the good that we have done.