Is a Gucci Bag, an Armani suit, or a pair of GAP retro distressed jeans “TO DIE FOR!”? And then again there is always that lingering question: “What would you really do for a Klondike Bar?” Ah yes, martyrdom, “dying for the cause,” can be a sticky wicket question.
In today’s first reading, Jeremiah the Prophet struggles with his cause and what might be required of him for the sake of that cause (and I can assure you he is not the least bit concerned about what to wear for the occasion). In lamentation and desperation, he cries out that he will no long “mention him [God] or speak in his name.” Then Jeremiah confesses that his message of prophecy and that for which his very life will be required of him “becomes like fire burning in his heart” making him so weary that he cannot keep it in. This is the spirit of a true martyr to the cause.
In the Gospel, Jesus foretells his own martyrdom and his being delivered up—even to death on a cross—for the sake and the cause of the reign of God and the salvation of all humankind. It is the cause of all causes and he is the Martyr of martyrs. Peter’s calling out for God to forbid such a requirement of Jesus for the sake of the kingdom invites Jesus’ direct and bitter command to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” After all, Peter has called upon God to halt the very mission that Jesus has been sent to carry out for the forgiveness of sins and the reopening of the gates of heaven. Peter hears “death” in the message, but Jesus knows that it is about life and love: “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.”
So who among Christians is called TO DIE FOR the cause? Historically the majority of Christians have not been martyred and, from among his closest followers, not John the Apostle (“the disciple whom Jesus loved”), and of course not his own mother, Mary (yet she is titled QUEEN OF MARTYRS), nor his foster father, Joseph. But Jesus declares nevertheless that anyone who wishes to follow him must “deny his very self and take up his cross.” The life of a true Christian in this world is bound to include a little or a lot of gradual martyrdom and, for some, the actual sacrifice of one’s own life. It should certainly go without saying that the martyrdom we speak of here has absolutely nothing to do with the demented planned suicide of a terrorist as reported too often in the media. We must take care that our children and youth know well the difference.
As a youth myself I was so impressed with the heroic example and lives of the pope and bishop martyrs, virgin martyrs, and missionary martyrs. I was also terrified that martyrdom might be required of me; I didn’t think I could or would have such courage. But in reality through life we die a thousand deaths to that which simply cannot be allowed or tolerated for a true Christian. Good parents, teachers, youth, and, indeed, all responsible Christians make the sacrifice and “die” to that which is an “obstacle” to Christ and his reign—that is to say, anything that stands in the way of the commandments, especially Jesus’ new commandment to love as he loves.
Like Peter, however, from time to time we become that obstacle to Jesus’ mission by “what we have done and what we have failed to do” and we also risk hearing, “Get behind me, Satan!” Then we take heart, knowing that part of Jesus’ own cause and martyrdom was “so that sins might be forgiven.”