Like Men Sentenced to DeathFr. Barnabas Powell
There’s a wonderful little video running around the internet making fun of those who claim the original apostles and followers of Christ were all lying to get ahead. They lied about the resurrection so they could be powerful.
Well, if that were true, they were a bunch of idiots, because every one of them, with the exception of St. John, died a martyr’s death. They were hunted, beaten, jailed, hated, driven from place to place, emptied of their wealth, and eventually arrested and killed for refusing to deny Christ. Even John, who died of old age, was arrested, tortured, and exiled. But none of the Apostles ever denied Christ after His resurrection.
The scoffers of Christianity insist all these witnesses lied and then spent the rest of their lives preaching what they knew was a lie, or worse, they were all deluded about the Mn Jesus, and every one of them suffered for this belief in Christ.
As I’ve always said, it takes more “faith” to be an atheist than to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
But what of these heroes of our faith? On this Feast of the 12 Apostles, let’s learn of the power of faith even in the face of terrible opposition and the power of humility and bravery to win the day.
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 4:9-16:
Brethren, God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things. I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
St. Paul is about to teach his spiritual children in Corinth a valuable lesson IF they are humble enough and brave enough (by the way, notice humility and bravery are always companions. Always. True humility is always bravery and true bravery is always humble!) to embrace this powerful wisdom.
Paul spends the whole of the passage comparing his situation with his spiritual children in the Church of Corinth. And he makes sure they understand the reality of their place and his place. If you had to choose, I bet you wouldn’t choose St. Paul’s situation. And that’s because St. Paul wants to illustrate to the Corinthian Christians that the Faith isn’t about making them “happy” or “comfortable.” The Faith is about making them resilient and strong and consistent and faithful.
In each comparison, St. Paul is clearly the “loser” according to the wealthy and prosperous Corinthians. The apostles are “a spectacle” to both angels and men. The apostles are fools for Christ, but the Corinthians are “wise” according to the world’s standards. Pauls says he is “weak” but the Corinthians are “strong” by all appearances. Paul is hungry, they are well-fed. Paul is homeless, reviled, persecuted, and slandered. And how does Paul respond?
Here is the lesson St. Paul wants his spiritual children to learn from the life of their spiritual father. Paul does the opposite of his treatment. Persecution is met with endurance. Slander is met with conciliation. Paul blesses even those who revile him. And the lesson is clear. A True Follower of Jesus Christ always looks beyond the moment to the eternal. A True Follower of Christ looks past the temporary faults of their “enemies” to the image of God that every person who ever lived possesses. And the True Follower in Christ refuses to return evil for evil. Revenge just isn’t in the heart of the True Follower of Christ.
And then Paul reveals his heart to his spiritual children. “I do not write this to make you ashamed.” St. Paul isn’t throwing a pity party and he isn’t trying to get sympathy from the Corinthians. He writes this way to admonish (a fancy word that means “strongly encouraged”) his spiritual children to take on his way of dealing with external circumstances. And this is because if they are humble enough and brave enough to react this way to how they are treated by others, they will always be free no matter what happens to them!
As we celebrate the Feast of the 12 Apostles, I wonder, do you know their names? Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew, the First-called; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, who was also the Evangelist and Theologian; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican, who was also called Levi and was an Evangelist; James the son of Alphaeus, and Jude (also called Lebbaeus, and surnamed Thaddaeus), the brother of James, the Brother of God; Simon the Cananite (“the Zealot”), and Matthias, who was elected to fill the place of Judas the traitor. These men left a legacy of faithfulness and piety and zeal for Christ and His Church, and knowing these men and remembering these men, their lives and their words, their manner of living, all serve us today to help us continue what they started, unto ages of ages!
Today, are you stuck in a mood that is the result of you being a slave to other people’s opinions of you? Are you always reacting to life instead of living a life that is free because of the peace in your heart? It’s time to reject living your life as a slave to external circumstances and start living a Normal Orthodox Life!!