Thursday, September 25, 2014

The blood of a martyr

Timothy George "remember(s) Polycarp and all of the martyrs" for just as then "Christians...are still called to be faithful amidst persecution and harassment, faithful even unto death."
[O]ne Sunday, around 2:00 in the afternoon, in February of the year 155....Polycarp, the eighty-six-year-old leader of the Christian church in Smyrna, was cruelly put to death by fire and sword because he refused to renounce Jesus Christ. ....

To proclaim the God of the Bible in Polycarp’s world was to invite conflict with the dominant power structures of the day. And so the persecutions came. ....

It is not as though the Christians were violent revolutionaries bent on the overthrow of the state. No, they wanted to be good citizens. As they repeatedly told those in authority, we willingly pay our taxes, and we gladly pray for those in authority, including the emperor. It is our duty to pray for the emperor, but we cannot pray to him. For we are also citizens of another realm. We belong to the ecclesia, the church, and we worship another King who sits on a different throne. ....

This was not revolutionary in the usual sense of that word, but it was subversive. For it was a way of saying that Caesar is not everything. There is a divinely appointed distance between church and empire. Because the Christians had embraced the Hebrew Scriptures, they knew the Ten Commandments, especially the first one: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery: you shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2–3). The state is ordained by God, as Paul taught, but it is not God. It is not sacred in itself. ....

...[I]n the afternoon, with the sun high in the sky, it was time for the execution of criminals. They were slaves, war captives, arsonists, murderers, and those, like Polycarp, who had committed sacrilege by refusing to honor the godhead of Caesar and who would not take the easy way out.

The proconsul said to Polycarp: “Take the oath, and I will let you go. Revile Christ.” But Polycarp said: “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I now blaspheme my king who saved me?” Polycarp offered a prayer in the name of the triune God, and then he was bound. The faggots were lit. Like Jesus, who was crucified naked, Polycarp entered the flames without his clothes, but when they saw that his body could not be consumed by fire the executioner was ordered to stab him with a dagger. And so the ground of Smyrna was made holy by the blood of the martyr. .... [more]