The bright yellow-greens of spring have given way to the deeper, darker greens of lush summer foliage. I peered down a tree-lined street six months ago, when winter’s grip seemed like it would never loosen, and told myself the barren trees would soon look like this. Though I knew from long experience that season would follow season as it always has, still the winter was deep enough that my courage had frosted over, and the conscious reminder of summer thawed my heart, if only for an instant.
This week’s gospel reading might seem winter-dour, but Jesus’ purpose in telling his disciples about their future persecution and martyrdom was intended rather to warm their courage and make sure that they faced those difficult times with a secure knowledge that he is in the lead. Thus far in human history, persecution has come and gone for the body of Christ, much like the seasons’ variability.
It sometimes begins slowly, like the change in spring foliage: building up in the surrounding culture a slowly increasing tolerance for abusing other human beings because of their beliefs. Then breaks the stormy season when martyrs’ earn their crowns. Then the storm abates — in like a lion and out like a lamb. In many parts of the world today such storms are raging; in other places the sky is blue. It is the task of the global body of Christ to support those who are experiencing persecution through prayer and aid, because no earthly place or culture is immune from the potential for “daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
This is one meaning of St. Paul’s reminder in Romans that we are baptized into Christ’s death — not into his life only, nor only into the joy that was set before him, nor only into the glory of the sweet by-and-by. None of that comes to us without first being baptized into death. The seeming morbidity of Jesus’ discourse with his disciples actually masks a pearly gate to the new Jerusalem. This window into the horrors that one group of people can commit upon another, this prescient glimpse of the life-and-death loyalties that we will allow to break even the closest ties of familial affection, this scene of terror and sword and cross that has had so many tragic manifestations through history: in this, Jesus turns his disciples’ face squarely upon the worst of human potential and finds therein no reason to doubt the love of God.
Be not afraid. The disciple is not greater than the master. If I have suffered the storms of human hate, so will you. Yet in it there is a finding and winning of one’s soul. The sword’s edge testifies to peace. Almighty God is waiting to acknowledge his faithful people. Have no fear of the hate and fury of the worldly: their brand of death is thin and hollow. You can taste it and immediately forget. Like the fury of a winter when it is past, it will never come again and even the memory of it will fade into the lush, green joy of eternity. See these horrors? Have no fear. You are of more value to your Heavenly Father than all earthly things.
Look It Up
Visit the website of Voice of the Martyrs.
Think About It
Clement of Alexandria calls martyrdom “the perfect work of love.” How does this kind of suffering show our love for God?