“And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen, as it was called (τῆς λεγομένης Λιβερτίνων), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated men, who said, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us.’ And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6: 8-15)
The opponents of St. Stephen, the First Martyr, belonged to the synagogue of the “Freedmen.” And that’s ironic, because the only truly “free” man in this story is St. Stephen. While he was “full of grace and power,” the actions of his opponents expose just how powerless they were before “the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.” When they fail at disputing him directly, because they actually have nothing to say, they resort to stirring up the people and the elders through false witnesses, with vague-but-alarming accusations that Stephen spoke some kind of “blasphemous words against Moses and God”; and that he claimed that Jesus of Nazareth will “destroy this place, and will change the customs…” These alleged “sound bites” are so incendiary to the sensitivities of these people, trapped in their merely-human “customs,” that St. Stephen’s own, powerful testimony only rattles their cages, and proves unbearable to them. So they stone him to death, in their powerlessness, even as he remains quite unrattled, praying, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7: 60). By the prayers of Your First Martyr, Lord, let us be attentive to Your truth, and not rely on “sound bites” that just might be stirring us up against one another!