MATTHEW 9:36-38; 10:1-8
At that time, when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaios, and Lebbaeos called Thaddaios; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.
In today’s gospel Jesus sends the Apostles out to do miracles; to raise the dead, heal the sick, cast out demons. And the saint we remember today, St. Alban, saw the waters of a river miraculously part when he was on his way to die as a martyr. That which is holy and that which manifests divine power is given to us to exhort us, to cause us to become martyrs.
During vespers, the priest prays silently, “Visit us with goodness and grant that through the remainder of this present day, by thy grace, we may avoid the diverse snares of the evil one.” And elsewhere, “Grant us a part and an inheritance with all those who fear thee in truth and keep thy commandments.”
Martyr is the Greek word for witness. A martyr bears witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, of the hope that we have in him. As martyrs we bear witness to the power of love and the possibility of holiness.
The opposite of bearing witness to the truth, the opposite of martyrdom, is telling lies. For example, we might tell ourselves the lie that I am giving my advice or lodging my complaints not as a manifestation of my pride or judgment, but because of pure, unsullied love and concern for others. Or perhaps I tell myself the lie that I need the newer car. I don’t want to spend money on it, but I need it.
We can also allow lies to steel the freedom we have in Jesus. We can listen to the lies that ell us that “you’re not good enough, you’re not as holy as that other person.” Or perhaps we buy into the lie that says, “you will never be saved, Jesus will be disappointed in you.” Or yet again, the lie that says that ultimate truth is a set of facts, not the potential and promise of deification.
Truth is not what we see in people when they disappoint us, nor what we see in ourselves when we have fallen short. Truth is the proclaimed in the commandments of God because they paint a picture of our possibilities. Truth is Jesus dying on the cross, as a picture of a man fully alive. We often resist that truth because of how much it threatens the self-serving lies we have invested in. Why do I hate the commandments so much? Because if they are from God, then much of my constructed alternate-world will crumble as meaningless lies. Why do I resent the community of the commandments? Because if I learn the truth that the church teaches, I will no longer be able to be yoked as a partner and comrade with people who have bought into the lies. The truth is a crisis.
Martyrdom is walking in the truth. The truth is that I am a sinner and only dying with Jesus can help me. The truth is that Jesus loves me and can change me, supplying what I lack.
Today we remember the martyr Alban and the Executioner who died with him. Alban was a Roman citizen living in Britain. He agreed to hide a Christian priest from the authorities, and became converted to the Christian faith. When the priest Amphibalus needed to flee, Alban agreed to exchange clothes with him so that Amphibalus could escape without his clothes giving him away. This was a prophetic action because, while Alban may not have realized it, he was taking on the priesthood of Christ who says, “Greater love has no man than to lay his life down for his brother.” Alban became a priest, in a spiritual sense, because the executioner who was going to kill him, saw his faith and confessed Christ. That executioner (whose name we do not know) was led by Alban to a baptism in blood.
These witnesses prove to us what it is that we should fear and what we should not fear. We have no reason to fear politics, conspiracies, or some grand narrative of the leaders of the world. What is terrifying is that which could come between us and our calling to be holy, and to shine with the light of Jesus. We do not need to fear the thousand small pricks to our pride and which are given to us every day by the people who are closest to us. We should instead beware not to fail to love those same people and serve them.
As St. Alban was led to his death, an angry mob blocked the bridge he needed to cross. Instead, God parted the waters and they walked through. If there is a river and a blood-thirsty mob between you and your calling to holiness, God will part the waters. Let us step forward and believe in the truth of Jesus Christ’s possibilities for us, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.