In pouring out his life for us on the cross the Son of Man sets a demand of discipleship. It is the laying down of one’s life for the sake of the kingdom of God that defines a disciple of Jesus. Faith, while necessary, is itself insufficient. “Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The father will honor whoever serves me.”
In a sense this is essentially the same message that Jesus delivers in Matthew’s Gospel: “where your treasure is there your heart is also.”
John does often cite the tension between this life and this world, and eternal life and the other world. While Jesus stands in both worlds, a disciple cannot. You are either of this world, or you are of the other world; you are either focused on this life or on eternal life. We cannot be both.
This is a real tension, one that is certainly a part of the daily life experience of those who experience persecution for their faith. Christians in various nations are torn between this world and the other. Many of them suffer a martyrdom of blood, but countless more suffer the martyrdom borne of faithful witness.
We are all called to martyrdom. This call comes to us at the moment of Baptism when we are clothed in the white garment. We are invited to take that as a spotless garment into eternal life. We are reminded again of that promise as the pall is placed on the casket during the funeral Mass.
The word martyr is of Greek origin and means a witness. While it is more often than not associated with those who die for a cause, usually religious faith, it attributable to the early church Fathers who drew that distinction. Yet we are reminded of the constancy of witness in those who suffer great indignities and persecution for their faith and are not murdered for that faith.
While the suffering of Christians in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram is a horrific current occurrence, it is not the only place where Christians are being tortured and killed solely because they are Christians, it is also not the only kind of suffering that exists.
The mockery of our religious beliefs in the media, the courts, and in public discourse might be short-term and fleeting, it always leaves us in an uncomfortable situation. As with any kind of harassment being belittled for a religious conviction is a stripe of martyrdom. Many of us will flee from that, we do not want to be so afflicted, yet we are called to witness to our faith at that moment. Each of us, in our own time and our own place, is called to be a disciple of Jesus bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel.
It is also important that as he instructed the disciples about his own pending martyrdom that Jesus notes his own distress. Yes, he is “troubled now” but he also knows where that will take him and what is faithfulness to the mission means.
To be a disciple of Jesus, to inherit eternal life, we have to step outside of the comfort zone of this life and place our hopes not here, but in the life to come.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]