Perhaps we sometimes wish that we had been among the first disciples to meet Jesus. At an initial reading, the Gospels might seem to suggest that the first generation of believers enjoyed special insight into the power of the Lord present among them. While that may have been true for some people, the Gospels also convincingly show that faith in Jesus did not come easily to all. Some walked no more with him when the implications of his teaching started to demand more of them than they intended to give. Yet others did persevere in their association with Jesus, even suffering martyrdom decades later because of their allegiance.
We can never know how we might have responded to Jesus walking into our Galilean town one day talking of a new era when the values of God’s kingdom would become the norm for life. But it is evident that, though Jesus’ message about the kingdom of God was what first drew disciples to him, his resurrection from the dead was the ultimate foundation for their enduring faith. It was that resurrection faith, which gave them the fortitude to face all kinds of obstacles, not the least of which was the threat of death for their belief in Christ.
Across the centuries, that same faith in Christ Jesus as the firstborn of the dead has strengthened Christian believers in cultures far removed from the original Jewish disciples of Jesus. In today’s reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, the persecutor-turned-Apostle reminds his community that he handed on to them the life-giving truths he had also graciously received. He urged them not to take these teachings lightly.
Through the providence of God, we have received that good news of the saving death and glorious resurrection of Christ. The admonitions of Jesus do inspire us, but it is the grace of faith in his resurrection from the dead, which enables martyrs today to persevere in the face of persecutors who feel threatened by such Christian faith. Though we may not face the danger of physical martyrdom, we pray for those who do, and look to their example as a contemporary call to perseverance in living our faith with conviction wherever we are.
(Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a Member of the Passionist Preaching Team of St. Paul of the Cross Province).