Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen.
I started my career working for a major multinational retailer. Soon after I began, the company’s fortunes started to nosedive. I always maintain that this had nothing to do with me, but my friends are not so sure! I felt that the company wasn’t addressing the big issues that underlay the poor trading so suggested lots of new ideas. Each time I did so, I was told that “this is not our way of doing business.” It seemed strange to me that the company had deliberately recruited dynamic young people onto their management training programme, yet weren’t prepared to listen to any of our suggestions. It was almost as if they felt threated by new ways of doing things.
The Church is very good at not listening to new ideas. We read about declining attendance, and yet often individual Churches don’t want to adopt new methods or think of new ways of doing things. Just like in my retailer, it’s almost as if they feel threatened. The same could be said for the early Church and its relationship with the leading Jews of the time. In our verses today, Stephen is achieving great things in God’s name, but rather than listening to Stephen, reflecting on whether what he says makes sense or not, and then taking the appropriate action, they quickly jump on him and start arguing with him. In the next chapter they will put him on trial and eventually Stephen will be killed for his beliefs.
Thankfully we don’t get many stonings in the west these days, but we can still find ourselves playing the part of the Jewish leaders. Do we listen to new ideas and consider new ways of doing things? Whilst the gospel message remains constant, every generation has their own ideas about how to communicate this. We need to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.