“But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice… My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.” –John 10:2-4; 27-29
“Does anyone know what it is like to be stoned?” The teacher realized in retrospect that was probably not the best way to phrase the question to a group of eight-grade students, who promptly burst out laughing. Needless to say, it was not the martyrdom of St. Stephen they were picturing in that moment.
I smile now whenever I hear the story of St. Stephen’s stoning, remembering this anecdote and also how, as a small child, I heard about this martyrdom of Stephen (and others) and decided that I too, wanted to be a martyr. Not because I was particularly holy, nor because I had any real tolerance for pain (ha!), but because like every child I wanted to imagine myself as a hero. Every child dreams of being the courageous one, the strong one, the one that stands up to evil and saves the world. “I want to be the coward that runs and hides, or that stands there doing nothing” said no child, ever.
But often time reveals in us more weakness than courage. Not only do we fail to stand up for those under attack, we pick up stones ourselves.
For most of us, the stonings that we experience—as victims, bystanders, or participants, are verbal rather than physical. If I am honest, I still fear these more than the physical.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” This childhood rhyme so often shouted across the playground is patently untrue. As I have participated in healing ministry over the last few years—for myself and for others—I have seen lifelong hurt and damage from name calling and other forms of rejection, that last longer than any bruises or physical trauma.
The antidote, to both wounds and cowardice, is to hear our name being called by Jesus.
When I know who I am, more properly Whose I am, I am less vulnerable to the lies of those who would attack me. The truths that Jesus speaks into my heart, about who I am, who He made me to be, can undo and heal the lies that I have believed over the years. And when I know who is calling me, and where I am going, with His grace I can have the courage to follow, even if like Stephen it leads to death.
In a world in which our identity in Christ is questioned or even lost, we seek all sorts of counterfeit measurements to validate and give us worth. How arrogant and absurd to claim superiority in the amount of melanin in our skin, the amount of education or experience on our resume, the amount of income on our tax returns. Let us pray for the peace that comes through knowing that we are all called by the same Good Shepherd.