We are reading the Apostolic Fathers on Thursday and next week we will read the Martyrdom of Polycarp. He died in 155, a saintly bishop and faithful follower of Jesus, his death was a significant event as he had met John the Apostle when a young man and was an associate of another bishop martyr Ignatius, who died a generation prior to him.
When asked to say "Caesar is Lord" and offer a pinch of incense in honor of the Roman god to save is life he replied eighty six years I have served Him and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? This was brought to mind as I meditated on the lectionary text from 1 Maccabees 2 today, where the priest Mattathias Maccabee finds himself in a similar situation. The king of Syria wants all Jews, like everyone else, to offer the sacrifices. Mattathias bemoans living to see such a day and when the king's representative offers him wealth in exchange for pagan worship he replies much as Polycarp. (my family) will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. However, when he sees a Jew go forward to make an apostasy he "gave vent to righteous anger"...he killed the man...and killed hte king's officer. What follows is the guerilla war against the oppressors, ending in eventual victory over them. The Jews fight.
Today's Gospel selection is of a different kind of response. Mt 16 we read that Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of hte elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Sensible Peter admonishes Jesus that such a thing can never happen, must never happen! It makes no sense, after all. In response Jesus calls Peter a satan. Jesus goes on to educate His followers that following includes let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me... those who lose their life for My sake will find it."
It is tempting to say that this is a fundamental difference between Christians and Jews, but it is only a temptation for those who ignore history. In fact, the churchmen I know are far more likely to embrace the way of Mattathias than Jesus. Recall, in the garden, Peter will wield a sword to protect Jesus. It will be some time before "the Rock" figures out Jesus' call. I think that you and I are no less limited by heads of 'stone' like the chief apostle.
The Maccabees throw off the Syrians, only to fall under Rome. The same Roman Empire which in a couple hundred years would crucify Jesus and a century and a half later would kill bishop Polycarp. That is the problem with wars, WW I leads to WWII. Does anyone doubt in the future there will be new outbreaks of violence? War is darkness. It destroys and does grave damage--even when fought for the best of reasons and within the strict moral guidelines of Just War.
Jesus' self gift is the source of Life and Light in the dark. It is hard to be light in darkness, yet Jesus, Who is the LIGHT has also told us that we are the LIGHT.
I have no easy answer to the contrast of warrior and martyr. Perhaps each has its time and place, perhaps neither is effective in all times and places. Both warrior and martyr end their days in death. Perhaps this is the ultimate answer, that there is, in the end, no escaping death. We are tasked with living and dying well. It is God's task to conquer death by resurrection. What happens to Jesus will happen to us all. That is the final answer. So whether warrior or martyr we live and we die under the hope of resurrection (and the final judgment).