Today, the Church presents us with an extract from Jesus’ mission discourse with His Disciples before He sent them out on missionary experience as recorded in the tenth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel account.
The whole of the tenth chapter, is in fact, a collection of Jesus’ teaching on mission. Certainly, many of the instructions in this chapter are not meant to be followed literally. However, the attitudes they inculcated which include; detachment, dependence on God rather than on human techniques, courage and boldness in the face of opposition, must inform our today’s mission and ways of bearing witness to the Gospel. It is not the letter of the instruction that matters most but the spirit.
Meanwhile, in the section we read today, (Matt.10:26-33), Jesus speaks about His Disciples who will be facing persecutions and ‘martyrdom,’ that they should not fear those who will only kill the body and not the soul. Rather they should fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Jesus is by this admonishing us, not to be afraid. As we know, Fear is a powerful force that can lead us to panic and flight. Many a time fears limit our human endeavours and achievement in life.
In the discourse, Jesus reminds His Disciples that they will meet with oppositions when they bear Him witness but that they should not be afraid of the challenging situations because all that is hidden will be made known, (vs 26). Those who live in darkness and who work to destroy the message of Christ will in the end, be disappointed. In all, Jesus was preparing the hearts of His Disciples for a difficult mission and the challenges that lie ahead.
Jesus, therefore, calls us, His followers to display a witness, courage and boldness in the face of persecution as a result of our faith in God and the gospel values. Often because of the fears of suffering some pains, losing some material gains and favours or even losing our lives, we easily compromise our faith and the demand to stand on the side of God and to defend our Christian values. Jesus, rather wants us to place greater priority towards safeguarding our relationship with God than losing it and our eternal life subsequently. It really takes tremendous courage to give authentic witness to one’s faith in Christ. Material loss is to be preferred to spiritual loss and the sacrifice of one’s total destiny.
In Greek, the word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’, hence, the Church applies ‘martyr’ to those ‘witnesses’ of Jesus who courageously gave their lives and suffered for Jesus and His kingdom. That is why, it is not every murdered Christian, that is necessarily a martyr. But only those who are persecuted because of Christ (Mtt.5:11) and whose lives are consistent with the gospel are such.
For sure, there are many Christians who are persecuted or even murdered, not because of their holding onto the Gospel principles and values but because of their own Greed, Selfishness and Inhuman behaviours. Therefore, whenever you are experiencing any kind of ‘persecution’ anywhere, be it in the family, religious community, neighbourhood, workplace etc, as a result of your attitude, don’t just remain adamant and console yourself as being ‘Blessed’ for experiencing persecution. But rather endeavour first to examine yourself to see if your attitude pattern that incurs the ‘persecution’, is consistent with the gospel principles and values. If they are not, please try by all means, to drop the attitude and make a change in the light of the gospel principles, otherwise the ‘persecution’ is just a leading way to your eternal damnation.
Nevertheless, the Lord is ever aware of all that you pass through and endure when you are holding onto Him and the gospel values. Especially the times you say; No, to certain things, because they are not right before God or because they are against your Christian values. God is aware of the times that you keep away from certain activities or certain places because of your love and reverence for Him. God is ever aware of how you are treated by others when you give witness to His Presence.
Therefore, do not be worried or troubled if people call you names because you have the courage to live your faith as a devoted Christian. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?, Jesus would ask. Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (vs 29-31). We must therefore, not be ashamed or afraid of acting or talking as people of faith and we must be ready to go public about our Christian convictions when necessary. For everyone who acknowledges the Lord before others, the Lord will acknowledge before His heavenly Father. Therefore, give the Lord the first place in your life and allow His principles and values to determine your life decisions and choices as you bear Him witness.
As You beat witness to the Gospel in the presence of persecution,I bless you today with your entire family, your endeavours and engagements, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. ( references Jer.20:10-13, Ps.69, Rm.5:12-15 & Matt.10:26-33)