The accused was bound and led outside the city wall to a hill and was then steered to the edge of a sheer drop that, according to the law, had to be twice as deep as the sinner was tall.
Of those who had given witness against the accused, one was charged with pushing him over the edge of the precipice in such a manner that he landed on his back.
This was accomplished and then the poor soul, having survived to this point, tried to struggle to his knees in order to assume an attitude of prayer. He was prevented from doing so as another witness was directed to drop a heavy stone down onto his chest He remained alive and once again made a feeble attempt to come to his knees, but the law was up to the challenge having decreed that in such circumstances all present were obliged to hurl rocks down on the hapless victim until he finally died.
The accused manís name was Stephen. He was an outspoken and devoted follower of the late Jesus of Nazareth. His crime was to have accused the Jewish leadership of twisting the Scriptures and blinding the people to the advent of the Messiah.
He was young, bright and fearless. He was a newly ordained Deacon, one of the first ever. He was outspoken to the point where his fellow Jewish-Christians wished that he would tone down his rhetoric for all their sakes.
They were, after all, in great danger since they had been openly accused of worshiping a dead man and that, in itself, was punishable by death.
Stephenís death sentence was intended to serve as an example. The execution was accorded full legal status by the presence of a highly respected officer of the Council. His name was Saul, also known by his Greek name which was Paul.
Little did he know that in months to come, with the Grace of God, he too would fearfully but lovingly make the same sacrifice for the same reason.
Stephen was the first of a long and glorious line of Christian martyrs.
We hear a lot about martyrdom these days; much of it confusing and most of it distasteful.
When the Church applies the title of "Martyr" to one of its deceased members it tells us that this person suffered death rather than agreeing to deny the Divinity of Jesus. In other words they always had a choice. Deny Jesus and live ...affirm Jesus and die.
Committing suicide and taking others with you is not martyrdom in the traditional sense. It is murder- suicide. Whether or not it is done with the expectation of some heavenly reward is immaterial.
Generally speaking, the driving force of martyrdom is LOVE while that of murder-suicide is hatred or at the very least despair.
"So," you might ask, "What is your point?"
My point is to separate the wheat from the chaff and to encourage a sense of gratitude and reverence for those who, over the centuries, have fortified the Body of Christ with their steadfast example.
My point is to put into accurate focus the tragically misguided
acts of the perpetrators of such events as those of New York City 9/11 and Baghdad yesterday, today and tomorrow.