Last week we looked at how the “Kerygma” (the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection) is the reason for conversion. This is how the Apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit converted so many people to the faith. We do not need eloquence or some high and lofty programs. All we need is to know the love of God, that He loved us so much, He was willing to come down to us and sacrifice Himself for us.
In Chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles, we see our first leaders of the Church needing to select other leaders to help manage the Church that Jesus had established. So, they started the order of Deacons. St Stephen was one of the first to be ordained. He preached and would bring Communion to those who could not attend the Holy Mass (Acts 6:1-2, 6). This is the first instance of an ordination by “laying on of hands” in the Acts of the Apostles (v6). The structure of the Church is well underway.
In Chapter Seven, Stephen preaches to a crowd in Jerusalem. It is a pivotal point in the life of the Church. The people reject his preaching. It seems that the building of the Church has come to a screeching halt. They threaten him with death and fulfill it. They kill Stephen; it seems as though all was lost. Was all this work and preaching to come to nothing? Yet, as Stephen died, he prayed for those who were there, giving his last breath for this purpose. And Stephen, seemingly the big loser of this event, was heard by God. The purity of his sacrifice showed its fruitfulness in Paul who was there when all this took place. Not long after, Paul would go through his conversion because of Stephen’s sacrifice and innocence. Paul’s conversion is described two chapters later (ch9).
Many times in our own life, there always seems to be struggle. There is a cause for others to look down on us, or we may feel ashamed for what we may have done or some circumstance in our life. There are times in our life when we feel like a total loser. People will reject us no matter how hard we try or no matter what good things we may do for them. Yet, God may have another plan for us and our works. It seems that Stephen’s murderers were getting off scot free! As it ends up, they were not arrested. Paul became the most prolific follower of Christ at that time. He wrote more books that were included in the Bible than all of the other writers combined. He did more than just change the hearts of the people of his day. He continues to reach out to those in need by the words he wrote that are enshrined in the Bible. All this was the fruit of a seemingly pointless sacrifice of total rejection.
It is worth noting the magician, Simon, tries to buy his ordination (Ch 8). Simon gets caught up into the excitement of the faith. People are being cured and grace is given. He wants to do that too. But, this is not something that can be bought. We do not have rights to God’s grace that allow us to abuse God. Simon sees the real authority that God gives to those who are ordained. He, understandably, wants to do the same. Peter corrects him on this and he fully repents. It is s a good challenge for us not to take God’s grace and His sacraments for granted. Do we even treat the gift and grace of faith well? What are thing we do that weaken our faith in Jesus? What are things that strengthen our faith? What are things we can do to make our faith even better? Where can we go for help in this matter?