Luke 23:33-34a, 46
Today’s passage makes the parallels between Jesus’ crucifixion and Stephen’s stoning clear. Both texts, and the contexts that surround them, include a trial before the council of the Sanhedrin, in which both men are charged with blasphemy and accused of opposing the teachings of the law of Moses with evidence provided by false witnesses. Both are put to death outside the city. Both pray for the forgiveness of those responsible for their death, and both entrust their spirits to God as they die. It is not by accident that in the feasts of the church, Jesus and Stephen are paired, with the Feast of the Nativity on December 25 and the Feast of Stephen on December 26. (Remember “Good King Wenceslas”?)
Yesterday we noted that the cross is the dominant pattern for the Christian life in the New Testament. Today’s text reminds us that forgiveness is a central practice of the Christian life. Both Jesus and Stephen practiced forgiveness to the end, even asking God to forgive their murderers. The model prayer that Jesus taught his disciples includes a petition for the forgiveness of our sins against God. It also instructs us to offer the same forgiveness to those who sin against us. In Matthew’s version of this prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, the petition for forgiveness is the only one that Jesus singles out for commentary. At the heart of the Christian life is the experience of receiving forgiveness and the practice of granting that same forgiveness to others. The dying words of Jesus and Stephen call us to begin this journey toward forgiveness by asking God to forgive other people—even when we might not yet feel like offering forgiveness ourselves.
Who has wronged you whom you’re not yet ready to forgive? Are you willing to ask God to forgive them, acknowledging you’re not quite there yourself?
God, forgive us of our sins. Forgive those who have sinned against us. Help us be ready to forgive when the time is right for reconciliation. Amen.