I was in the 9th grade, I think, when we watched a short film in English class called “The Lottery.” I didn’t know anything about the story, had never heard of Shirley Jackson, and sat agog as the people of a small town began to throw stones at the unlucky woman who drew the slip of paper with the black mark upon it.
In Acts 6 and 7, we have the story of another martyr, Stephen. He is full of “grace and power” and does “great wonders,” so naturally people who don’t like that sort of thing begin to conspire against him. He is ruthlessly, brutally honest, in the tradition of all good prophets. He preaches a literate sermon about the history of the nation of Israel, but really it could be about any nation, for at the end he tells them they are stiff-necked, always opposing the Holy Spirit. It is their heart and their ears that are uncircumcised, he says. They just won’t let God inside, preferring to say they know what God wants.
Doesn’t this sound like us? We go on habit and tradition and close our shutters to keep the Spirit of God outside. It has ever been so. As far back as Torah, we may read, “Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer.” (Deuteronomy 10:16) We go our own way and bring along our accepted ways of talking about God and acting “in God’s name.”
The people in Shirley Jackson’s story town don’t even remember why they are doing what they are doing. It’s just an annual ritual. Every spring someone must be stoned to death. And if it is your mother, why, you pick up a rock and you hurl it, and you give thanks that you are not the one.
Stephen, like Jesus, forgave his murderers. Oh, God, they don’t know what they are doing! Forgive them! How much longer can we live by that excuse?