Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Like lambs among wolves.

Attending daily Mass, I often find that a single phrase from the day's Scripture readings strikes me with particular force and shapes my prayer for the day. I can never be sure what that phrase will be, but I usually know it when I hear it. In today's readings for the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, that phrase comes from Jesus' sending of seventy-two disciples in Luke 10. Sending his followers out to preach about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick, Jesus offers a very sobering commission: "Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves." I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Nearly two millenia after the life and ministry of Jesus and in very different circumstances, these words still ring true. The accounts Luke gives in the Acts of the Apostles of the persecution and martyrdom faced by the first Christians show the meaning these words had for the early Church. In our own time, the witness of the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador and the Trappist Monks of Tibhirine show that those who dare to preach the Gospel still do so as lambs among wolves, apparently defenseless in the face of earthly power and violence. Discipleship has always been a risky business, for in purely temporal terms the way of Christ is the way of the weak.

The message we hear in today's Gospel appears all the more apt when we consider that the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist falls between two commemorations of martyrdom. Yesterday we celebrated the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a first-century bishop who died with these words on his lips: "I am the wheat of Christ, ground by the teeth of beasts to become pure bread." In Ignatius' case, as with many other early martyrs, Roman lions stood in for the wolves of Jesus' admonition. As one who had studied the Gospels closely and assumed leadership in the Church at a particularly dangerous time, Ignatius of Antioch knew the risks he faced and accepted them.

Tomorrow the Church in the United States remembers the Jesuit Martyrs of North America, who gave their lives bringing the Gospel to a land they knew first as Huronia and later as "New France." The French Jesuits who worked among the Huron people in the 17th century embraced a martyrdom that went beyond dying for their faith - communicating the Christian message to people whose culture, language, lifestyle and worldview differed markedly from their own required a kind of daily death to self as profound in its own way as the physical death that each of the North American Martyrs would eventually undergo. Like Ignatius of Antioch, the North American Martyrs knew what they were getting themselves into. With many other Christians through two millenia, they accepted the risks that come with discipleship.

Martyrs are people who've given their lives for an idea. The martyrs we remember this week and throughout the Church year gave their lives for the message of Jesus found in the Gospels. Among the four evangelists, Luke is unique in that he provides his 'Life of Jesus' with a sequel - a sequel that tells us how some early Christians responded to Jesus' call to discipleship. Reading Luke's two books together, we learn what it means to be sent as lambs among wolves. Like the martyrs we remember in the liturgy, we know what we're getting ourselves into. AMDG.


At October 21, 2005 12:42 AM, Anonymous Jake said...

Nice post.


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