Falls Into the Earth and Dies

http://postrecession.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/green-shoots.jpg"Martyr" has taken on a negative connotation, usually associated with someone who is blatantly showing off how much they're sacrificing and suffering for the good of others.  Which is a shame, because real martyrs are the most humble and selfless people possible, being willing to literally extinguish themselves in order to exalt something (Someone) else besides themselves.  Which is why biographies of Christian martyrs are so inspiring and challenging to read, because they represent the kind of posture we should all have in all of our lives.

Too many times, Christians are seen as tame, unthreatening souls who avoid vices, work hard, and take care of their families.  Too often, we Christians are indistinguishable from much of the rest of the world in terms of what we are trying to get out of the world: a steady living, enough to take care of our families, and the occasional pleasure or indulgence, and we are happy.  But we ought not be so easily satisfied.

The metaphor I would like to use to offer a counterpoint to this bland approach to the faith is, ironically, from the world of evolution.  One of the basic tenets of evolution is that propagation of the species trumps all.  Because life is precious, and because only the living have offspring, our desire to survive and reproduce is paramount.  Even seemingly selfless acts can be explained from this perspective: for even more important than our own lives is that our species flourishes, so when faced with a choice between the two, organisms can and do choose the multiplication and safety of their offspring over their own lives.

And so it is with martyrs.  While we are alive, we ought to thank our God and cherish our being.  But life, in this finite body, is not the true end of the believer.  And so there is a very real sense in which, if faced with the choice between survival of the flesh and propagation of the message, martyrs make the rational choice.  As Jesus Himself says in the twelfth chapter of the gospel according to John: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  He was speaking of Himself, but the truth also applies to those who die in the service of the spreading of His message. 

There is much more to say about martyrs and martyrdom.  But I'll stop here.  Again, I encourage you to read the accounts of those who paid the ultimate cost for their beliefs and for their desire to share those beliefs.  I trust you will find in these accounts an inspiring and challenging call to behave similarly: to care more about the spreading of a life-giving message than about the sparing of one's own finite life. 
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