|Posted on June 25, 2017 at 5:30 AM|
May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Gospel reading today is part of the passage where our Lord, having chosen the 12 Apostles, is giving them their instructions prior to sending them out to preach his Good News in the towns and villages of the people of Israel. And one of the things that he told them that we heard read today was the following verse:
'Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.' The interpretation of those words are fairly obvious – Christ knew that speaking the Gospel truths are not without risks; and he wanted his disciples to understand that the seeming peace and comfort that may come by keeping quiet and going along with the world instead of preaching that truth is only temporary – whereas the benefits of being faithful to God and obeying his commandments, including his commandment to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of all nations, are eternal.
I have no doubt that our Lord's words were of great comfort in the early centuries of the Church, when to be a Christian was to face persecution and death. The inspirational stories of the martyrs we have had passed down to us from that era demonstrate clearly that they refused to fear those who could kill the body; for they understood that it mattered nothing to preserve the life of the body if it was done at the cost of the soul. The life of the body is short and will end whether our time in this life is spent in comfort or in suffering; but the life that comes after this life is eternal and will be miserable indeed if those comforts have come at the expense of fidelity to God.
And surely those words of Christ must be of great comfort to those who face persecution and death today for the sake of the faith. For we must not forget that such persecution is not a thing of the past; it is not something that only took place in the bad old days of the Roman Empire. No, it continues today; and in fact Christians are the most persecuted people on the face of the earth today. Tens of thousands die for the faith each year; and tens of millions more face all kinds of suffering. And the suffering and death they face would end if they would only renounce their faith – but they refuse to do so, for they, like the martyrs of old recognise that those who kill the body are not to be feared; and they therefore place faithfulness to God and the eternal life that comes with that above any short-lived comforts they might gain in this life for the sake of renouncing their faith.
We, of course, do not face death on a daily basis for the faith. No one any time soon is going to put a gun to our head and threaten to pull the trigger if we do not deny Christ; no one is likely to beat us up, chase us through the streets, burn our homes, destroy our churches, or deny us our human rights for the sake of our faith. However, it would be a mistake to think because of that the Christ's words therefore only apply to people of long ago or people living far away. In our society Christians are coming under increasing pressure to adapt the faith to conform with the values of secular society. Certain sections of the media endlessly condemn traditional Christian teachings as being unacceptable; indeed, in the United Kingdom only recently the leader of a major political party stepped down, saying that he no longer believed it was possible to both lead his party and be a faithful Christian. The modern world is becoming a very cold place indeed for those who take their Christian faith seriously.
But that, I think, should not fill us with dismay. Rather, we should think of our Lord's words and be filled with hope. We have nothing to fear from those who can only kill the body; nothing to fear from those who can make our lives difficult; nothing to fear from those who will mock us and sneer at us and loudly proclaim we are fools, that our beliefs are out of step with the age we live in and are therefore unacceptable and must be either changed, abandoned or suppressed. For these are only the passing dangers and discomforts of this life; and enduring them does not diminish us in the least. Indeed we should welcome them, for they give us the opportunity to bear witness to Christ in the world – something we should daily give thanks for to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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