You know the old expression: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” The proverb is thought to go back to the 12th century. It’s said to have made an appearance in a book called Old English Homilies (c.1175). Interestingly the Old English can be translated two ways:
- “Who can give water to the horse that will not drink of its own accord?”
- “Who is he that may water the horse and not drink himself?”
It seems to me that St. Stephen is really saying both at the same time.
- As regards the Easter message of Jesus as the Risen Lord and Savior… well, the apostles have been all over the city and Temple area and “people, the elders, and the scribes” are not drinking in the Good news.
- But as regards the entire history of God offering salvation, there is a message to the leadership about talking the talk but skipping the walk.
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.”
And maybe it is the second translation that deserves our deeper attention: what part of the full gospel are they choosing not to drink? Every prophet, speaking the Word of God, reminded the king and the people that they were being judged in the way that they treated the widow, the orphan, the stranger and alien – and doing a lousy job for which they would be judged.
The US Catholic Bishops has a special section on its website about Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration. Are Catholics willing to drink that water – not with the lens of a political affiliation, but through the lens of Scripture? Are we willing to have someone else drink that water, but not ourselves? I chose immigration as the topic. There are lots of other topics that might be as controversial. Take a look at Matthew 25 when at the end of days, we are separated into sheep and goats. May we not hear: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors”