The First Martyrs of the Church of Rome

Matthew 8: 18-22
Am 2: 6-10, 13-16 / Ps 50: 16 -23

“Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
(Matthew 8:22)

True Christians need not ever doubt,
By the Spirit we’ve been inspired;
This is what faith is all about,
Nothing less will we be required.

When Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to cross to the other side. A scribe approached and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head.” Another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

Reflection

One of the teachers of the law, after witnessing all the miraculous healings that Jesus had performed, and the amazing lessons that He taught, could hardly contain his composure, and blurted out that he would go with Jesus anywhere He went. But our Lord knew that the scribe’s commitment was merely skin-deep, and driven only by his emotion of the moment, so Jesus reminded him that if he wanted to go with Him, he would have to leave the comforts of home. Another man, who had already decided to be His disciple, asked to be excused for a while to bury his father, but instead of letting him go, Jesus said, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

At first it may strike us as strange that our Lord would reject one who was eager to follow Him, and yet force another to come with Him and abandon his duty to bury his father first. But upon reflection, we realize that in the case of the first ‘wannabe’ follower, not everyone is called or qualified to serve in God’s special ministry or vocation. And in the case of the second, Jesus is saying that nothing is more important than serving in the kingdom of God. Let those who are without spiritual life be the ones to bury the dead, who can no longer be saved; but those who have life in the Spirit have a greater duty to the living. In effect, Jesus is saying, “The harvest is rich, but the laborers are few. There is no time to waste; all hands on deck!” In the Gospel passage of St. Luke, Jesus even said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk.9:62).

The conditions for following Jesus leave no room for concessions. As our Lord showed in His own passion and death, we must be focused and resolute in pursuing the ultimate goal of our life, whatever conditions may prevail against it. St. Peter said, “Do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you. . . But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when His glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1Pet.4:12-13). St. Paul likewise said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). These two saints suffered the same fate of the early Christians in Rome during the reign of Nero.

Today the Church commemorates the Feast of the First Martyrs of Rome. These were the men and women who willingly suffered martyrdom and death at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero (AD 64) than deny their faith as followers of Jesus Christ. The pyromaniac emperor burned the city of Rome and blamed the early Christians for the holocaust, thus encouraging their mass executions all over Rome. As history has shown, their martyrdom became the strong foundation in the process of evangelization of the entire Roman empire to the Catholic faith. By giving up their lives, they deserved to enter the kingdom of God.

Dear God, we commemorate today Sts. Peter and Paul and all the first martyrs in Rome, who died for the sake of our faith. In their honor we give You praise and glory. Amen.

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