“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.“ – Acts 7: 59-60
“Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone you just like they said they would
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home
And they’ll stone you when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned.” -Bob Dylan, 1966
Many assume this song is about smoking pot and getting high. Dylan insists otherwise. In 2012, Dylan told Rolling Stone: “These people aren’t familiar with the Book of Acts.”
In Acts 7, Stephen received death-by-stoning after preaching his truth to the authorities who were probably going to kill him no matter what he said. Dylan might have felt the same way about his critics who were going to “stone” him no matter what he said or did. Most every truth-teller is answered with a rock, or a bullet; some figurative, some literal.
Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Stephen’s life and death rhymes with Jesus’. In both cases, the authorities are bent on destroying someone filled with Holy Spirit. Both face an angry mob. Both are stripped of their garments and executed while asking God to forgive their killers. Both commend their spirit to God at the moment of death.
Getting stoned (and other forms of abuse and rejection for the sake of the gospel) is probably not what you signed up for as a Jesus follower. We signed on to receive the grace and forgiveness of God as advertised in big bold type on Christianity’s promotional material. We might be shocked to read the fine print and learn “Every Christian must get stoned.” Not only that, we are called to show Christ-like/Stephen-like grace and forgiveness when we are mistreated for standing up and speaking out.
The good news is, stones and stoners don’t have the last word. That word always belongs to God and that word is an “Alleluia!” so loud it rolls the biggest, baddest stone away.
Lord, when it’s my turned to be stoned, may I reveal at least some of the grace you have revealed to me.
Matthew Laney is the Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, in Hartford, Connecticut.