Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, “They will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.”
Lent is a journey, and what journey would be complete without a few excursions on the side? I’m giving John a rest today, so we can take a bit of a detour to tackle a different subject.
First, let me say that this is not a pretty story. It’s not supposed to be. This is a story of martyrs, people who were persecuted and put to death for their faith in Christ. It’s not supposed to put you in a good mood. It’s supposed to hit hard, and hit fast: what we are doing in being Christians is ultimately about life and death, and that the faith is worth fighting for, worth dying for.
I like to have fun on this blog, as you all well know. I joke and I post silly pictures, partially for my own entertainment, and partially to keep things in perspective. However, perspective cuts both ways. Occasionally, we need a detour into a different part of the path, and sometimes its not quite so lighthearted.
I look at this passage from Matthew, and it brings it home to me how dangerous the gospel message is. It’s a radical vision of who God is, and what God has planned for God’s children. The harsh truth is, there are consequences to having a radical vision. There are consequences to not throwing a pinch of incense to the emperor. There are consequences for letting the dead bury their dead. There are consequences to taking up your cross and following Jesus. Sometimes, those consequences mean you wind up on the wrong end of a sword, or a gun for that matter.
While most of us don’t have to deal with Imperial persecution much in America, this is not the case in most of the world. The vision that the church has for the world is very much at odds with the how things are usually done in the world. The emperor says peace through victory and conquest: Christ says peace through justice, love, and faith. The emperor rules through fear; Christ rules through hope.
What is at stake is nothing less than life and death. Perpetua and Felicitas knew this, all the way to the bitter end. They knew that Christ was worth dying for. After all, Christ taught us that in losing our lives, we save them. God give us all the perseverance and clarity to see the truth, and when persecution comes, may God give us the strength to endure.