They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Today we have the story of the stoning of St. Stephen and Saul, later St. Paul,the instigator. In some ways he is worse than your average member of the crowd. He is a pious man, a learned man, and is was the one who, having railed up the crowd, doesn't want to get his own hands dirty. It is no wonder that when he shows up later claiming to be a follower of Jesus the Church is reticent to believe him. He is complicit in the murder of our first recorded martyr.
How does some reach this level of sin?
No one is born evil. My mother kept more than 100 foster children over her lifetime. We all help in caring for the mostly newborns until they were adopted, While each early on shows signs of unique personality, babies are all fundamentally the same in their wants and needs. When I see people as adults capable of true evil, I always remind myself that they were once someone's toddler, and wonder what happened to warp them so.
There is a detail in today's reading that caught my attention only because of conversations with my dentist. The reading says they ground their teeth. According to my dentist, I'm a grinder. Lots of us are; we have night guards to keep us from grinding in our sleep. The curious fact my dentist pointed out is that if we grind in our sleep we also do it when we are awake, often without being aware of it. Little by little left unchecked we can destroy our teeth.
As Christians we believe that sin is a human act; it requires knowledge and will. You can unknowingly do a bad thing, but it isn't sin unless you know it and freely choose it.mBut Saul did not simple wake up one day and say today I will participate in murder.
Most serious sin in our lives is like tooth grinding. It starts off with very small, sometimes imperceptible, evil. It can be something as simple as an idea or attitude that we pick up from our friends and family. By itself it can appear harmless, but left unchecked it slowly degrades our morality until we can choose to commit sin and hardly be disturbed by it.
We may never murder but murder is not the only serious sin.
How did Saul get to the point he could stand by unflinchingly and watch a man be stoned to death? One small step at a time over a lifetime.