King Herod, when he began hearing stories of Jesus, had thought Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. The gospel story (Mk 6:14-29) recalls the story of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod. John did not bow down to Herod or compromise his teachings for fear of him, in fact it was Johns preaching against the immorality of Herod that ignited his anger. It was his weak character though that caused king Herod to cave in to the demands of his (illegitimate) wife Herodias. John the Baptist was a martyr for Gods truth. He did not give into a lie or preach against God to save his life. It seems martyrs are in the news a lot lately, most prominent those that war in the mid east. The difference though is that martyrs like the Baptist never claimed to be martyrs, they died for their beliefs. They did not massacre people in the name of God. In recent years there have been numerous groups that have massacred either for their beliefs, or in the name of God. So different from the true martyrs. Those true martyrs lived for their God, and died because of the convictions of their lives. Those true martyrs are so different from those that kill as Herod did; out of fear, greed, weakness, anger, hate, desire, pride and every other sad emotion that motivates people to violence. The modern day Herod’s are the likes of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko-Haram. The martyrs then are those that get caught in the crossfire of their bullets, bombs, and hatred. Those that tried to live in Gods peace but were martyred through Satins hatred.
“The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.” Paul Miki, while hanging on a cross
Today is the memorial of a group of martyrs from the past, Paul Miki and companions. Paul was a Japanese Jesuit, born in Japan in 1562. From the time Saint Francis Xavier brought Christianity to Japan in the early 1500’s until the 1580’s there were 200,000 Christian converts living in that country, and that raised concern among many leaders of that country. In 1587 the emperor banned Catholics. By 1596 the persecution of Catholics led to the imprisonment and execution of Paul Miki and 25 fellow Jesuits and lay Catholics. They were marched from Kyoto to Nagasaki, raised on Crosses, and speared to death. Remarkably even during their crucifixion and execution they continued to preach Christ. While hanging on the Cross Paul proclaimed himself Jesuit and Japanese, and preached Christian forgiveness. With that martyrdom and purge of western influences from Japan, Christianity was thought to have been extinguished from that country. When missionaries returned in the 1860’s there was no sight of Christians. As they worked around Nagasaki though they eventually discovered thousands of active Christians who secretly kept that faith alive. They are known as the hidden Christians of Nagasaki. That persecution of Gods love had failed, just as it did after Herod, and just as it will after the current group of maligned murderers who kill in the name of God. God’s love triumphs over the devils hatred. That’s the lesson from the old testament to today. The martyrs are those who loved, lived, and died for God; and not those who kill in the name of God