What's the difference between the Old and New Testament martyrs?
Jesus. As Saint Peter tells us, He left us an example.
In the Old Testament, brave men died for the love of God...and they, no doubt with solid human reasoning, prayed earnestly to God to rain justice down upon their persecutors.
Jesus changed all that.
The punishment of crucifixion under Roman rule was not just excruciatingly painful...it was humiliating beyond belief. Those crucified were, under these conditions, almost expected to endure their deaths only by mouthing oaths and even terrible blasphemy...so much so that, in many cases, it was customary for their executioners to sever their tongues in order to silence their horrible words.
Nobody had to cut off Jesus' tongue.
"Father, forgive them...they know not what they do."
The first of Jesus' last words introduced love in its most radical form: that of mercy on those who do us wrong.
This is Christianity: a radical sort of love the world had never seen.
Saint Stephen, Christianity's first martyr, echoed Christ's words as he died, stoned by those whom, it might be argued, thought they were doing A Good Thing.
Time after time, we learn of those who were—and still are today—tortured and murdered for the love of Christ, cheerfully and even joyfully accepting their lot with love and tenderness toward their enemies.
This is Christianity: radical love that, sadly, much of the world has still not embraced.
And when we recall that Jesus is God—the Author Life—His example is even more awesome.
Awesome. But not inimitable.
I pray that the next time someone insults you or insults me, we may remember the way of Jesus. That we may be truly radical when it comes to love.
What a great work of charity! Death itself died when Life was slain on the Tree!