Martyrs, Pastors and Wrestlers
We look to summer for refreshment, a change of pace, vacations. Today’s readings may suggest that we do not take vacation from Our Lord or His call to discipleship.
Martyrs. We begin with the feast of St. Augustine Zhao Rong and companions, martyrs.
This feast includes 120 Martyrs who died in China, eighty-seven who included children, catechists and parents. The remaining thirty-three were foreign born missionaries. The feast includes martyrs from different periods, between 1648 and 1930. The word ‘martyr’ carries with it a special love of Christ that flows over the ages and lives of these men, women and children. It is clearly defined in Augustine Zhao Rong whose name gives the title to the feastday. Augustine was a Chinese soldier who accompanied the prisoner Bishop John Dufresse to his martyrdom in Beijing early in 1800. Moved by the bishop’s courage Augustine would seek baptism, become a diocesan priest and die a martyr himself in 1815.When we sing the hymn ‘Faith of Our Fathers’, these men, women and children are the ones who have great love true to Jesus till death.
Pastor. The people whom Jesus looks upon in the gospel are described as, ‘harassed and torn apart’. I asked recently why a well-organized program had fallen apart. I was told simply, ‘they had no one to pastor them’. A job description for a pastor, I think, is in the area of one who is a loving presence and witness, who cares and takes the side his flock, who protects and prevents others from hurting the flock, and who leads them to what is good for them. In this section of Matthew’s Gospel Our Lord, who taught with authority, is being revealed as the One who comes to save, a true and good pastor.
Wrestler. Our Old Testament reading brings us to the ending of the first half of the Book of Genesis.
The second half, the story of Joseph, will begin tomorrow with Joseph already in charge of the food supply in Egypt during the time of famine. Today we hear the detail that Jacob has eleven sons. Besides his sons, Jacob puts Leah and Rachel his wives, on the other side of the river Jabbok. Jacob has grown spiritually. Yesterday’s reading told of the renewal of the covenant between Jacob and God: "Know that I am with you; I will protect you…I will never leave you…"(Gen 28:15). Now, without what follows coming as a shock, Jacob wrestles all night. It is not a slugfest. The opponents talk, ‘Let me go it is daybreak. I will not let you go till you bless me. What is your name? Jacob. Let it be Israel’. There is something of intimacy, gift giving, and some pain – Jacob will walk with a limp in the days that follow. But he tells us that he saw the face of God and lived. We are left to wrestle with what this meeting of God and Jacob might mean.
The Sunday readings from Luke overlap with those of Matthew these days. In both we are hearing teachings of being disciples, at times the same passage expressed in the unique voice of each evangelist. We are disciples. We might add to our summer reflections today how the three qualities expressed in our readings and liturgy – martyr, pastor and wrestler – are present in our discipleship.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.