Today in the Gospel, we hear the story of the calling of the first disciples by Jesus. Except, John the apostle, all others died as martyrs. Following the example of martyrdom of the apostles, many early Christians also bore witness to Jesus through martyrdom. They believed that the ideal way to bear witness to Jesus was to sacrifice their lives for Jesus. One of the early Christian martyrs was St. Sebastian. He was a Roman soldier who served in the Roman Army during the time of the emperor Deocletian. He was found guilty of helping Christians in secret.
The word martyr is derived from the Greek term Martus which means a witness. A Christian martyr is a witness who gives testimony to Jesus and his teaching by shedding his or her blood. Even today there are people who are being persecuted for being Christians.
How can we understand the meaning of martyrdom in today’s context? The renowned spiritual writer, Ron Rolhiser says that we are built for martyrdom. We only experience the true meaning of life when we are dying to ourselves and giving life away.
Another spiritual writer Fr. Richard Rohr says that our lives are not about ourselves. In today’s world one can become a martyr by going beyond the boundary of self-centeredness. We shed the blood of martyrdom through selflessness, by sacrificing our own hopes and dreams for others, by responding to the needs of others ahead of our own personal agendas.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1949) states that just as Christ became Christ because of His suffering and rejection, one can become a disciple of him only by participating in Jesus’ suffering and rejection. He further states that the Law of Christ is the Law of the Cross. Hence one can become a disciple of Jesus only by accepting this law which is His cross. We as baptized Christians cannot be selective in accepting Jesus’ teaching. If we accept Him, we must accept Him totally including His suffering and death.
At the Last supper Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me”. It not only refers to the celebration of the Eucharist but implies that His followers should be ready to suffer and even lay down their lives for the sake of creating a just and peaceful society like Him. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we not only embrace the self-sacrifice on the Cross, we also embrace all our parents, spouses, children, brothers and sisters and even enemies who suffer like Jesus.
Fr Chaminda Wanigasena
Chaplain, Sri Lankan Catholic Community, NSW