If you’ve ever been honky-tonking down on the Texas gulf coast — or anyplace else, probably — you know that when the blue jean jackets come off, there’s going to be trouble. And you can’t just lay your jacket across the bar stool. What you do is, you give it to your best buddy. And the next day, when everybody is nursing their wounds, if you are said to have been holding someone’s coat, it’s as if you’d been in the fight yourself. That’s how it is in the honky tonk.
Something kind of similar was going on in the early part of the first century. What people would do is, they would lay things at the feet of people they admired, their leaders. In Acts 4:35, for example, people sold what they had and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. In that way, they were bound together in the ministry of caring for the poor.
It happened again in this morning’s reading, “… and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” It is possible that people just took their coats off in case they were called on to help in the stoning. That makes honky-tonk sense. But, I think the writer has included this little tid bit for another reason: he is showing us that the shameful ones in this situation are the witnesses, the bystanders. According to the law, Stephen should have been stripped. It was part of the shaming process, a sign of his guilt. Instead we see that it is the witnesses who bear the shame. They are the guilty party.
I wonder what might have been going through their minds as they removed their own garments. Was there a moment when one or more of them realized that they were acting out a shame-reversal and that the guilt was theirs? Or, maybe it was just Saul.
Saul was at the height of his powers as a young man. I imagine he was full of passion and zeal — or, spit and vinegar as we might say in the honky tonk. Imagine him standing there supervising the stoning of Stephen, and also on the cusp of a great mission to eradicate The Way. It might appear that he was a man who had the world by the tail. But — and I’m just guessing here — but, I’m guessing that something else was going on beneath Saul’s veneer of bravado.
Maybe Saul noticed where the shame fell? Maybe he heard the words of his teacher, Gamliel, urging a more cautious approach to the Jesus movement. Or maybe it was just long simmering doubts in the back of his mind. Whatever it was, it was enough to allow the Holy Spirit to enter his life en route to Damascus. These little things: the drape of a cloak, a niggling doubt, the almost-forgotten voice of an old teacher… these can break us open at the right moment and allow the Holy Spirit to change us.
What are the holy voices in the back of your mind saying?
What small things may be calling you to attention today?
Can you see where these things, which may seem small, may be leading you?
Ask the Holy Spirit to bring all things, especially small things, into their fullness.
To paraphrase Saul’s old teacher, if those small things are from God they will bear their fruit at the appointed time. And if they are not, they will wither away.
Linda “Lindy” McMillan is a native of the American state of Texas. She currently resides in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Lindy’s vocation is adventure, expressed in the ministry of loving the world back to its peace in God.