Sunday, 31 August 2014
St Edward the Martyr: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Today, I’d like to speak to you about the danger of being a good person: it may get you hated; it may get you killed.
I speak of this in the light of three things:
First, our first reading, from Jeremiah, which recalled how doing the Lord’s work had brought “insult [and] derision” (Jer 20:8) for him. Jeremiah was a good man, one of greatest of the prophets, but the Lord had given him a tough task: He lived at a time when the people were being unusually unfaithful to the Lord’s commands, and doom, destruction, and exile in captivity were about to descend on them as punishment for their sins. And he had job of warning them, while there was still time. But it was not a happy message, “I have to howl and proclaim: ‘Violence and ruin!’”(Jer 20:8). And instead of welcoming his message the people stoned an imprisoned him. And we sometimes face a similar reaction when we need to tell people things that they need pointing out to them: if they are stealing at work, or living with someone they shouldn’t be, or neglecting to care for their children etc.
Second, our gospel text, in which the Lord prophesied His approaching crucifixion and taught His disciples that ANYONE who wishes to be His follower has to recognise that it involves “taking up the cross”(c.f. Mt 16:24). And, among the most immediate aspects of that Cross is what other people do to us precisely BECAUSE we are following the Lord, because we are being good.
Thirdly, in light of St Edward. As you know, our parish pilgrimage was this Wednesday, and we went to the site outside Corfe Castle where our parish patron, St Edward, was martyred. He was killed, martyred. Why? Because he was a good person.
Now, its important for me to emphasise this point because people sometimes say to me: Why do we call St Edward a ‘martyr’, he was killed by his step-mother, so how does that make him a martyr?
[St Edward, you hopefully recall, was the boy king of Wessex: he became king in 975AD at the age of 13, and was murdered by his step-mother when he was 16 –she gave him a cup of poisoned wine and then stabbed him, which is why he is pictured holding those two symbols of his martyrdom (cup and dagger) in the statue of him here in our church.]
But WHY did she kill him, and why did those plotting with her want him dead?
We can see the answer to that question by looking at the reaction of the people to his death:
When St Edward was killed, the people of his day might of reacted in many ways. They might have said, “Well, that’s one more rich selfish king dead.”
But instead, they hailed him as a ‘martyr’ –a word that means a ‘witness’ to Christ. Historically, some martyrs died for refusing to worship the pagan Roman emperors, others died for attending the Mass, but a great many were killed because of the GOODNESS of their lives –and so the Christian tradition uses the title ‘martyr’ for those who were killed out hatred for a good life.
As we know, people respond to goodness in different ways: Many people respond to good people by being edified by their goodness, inspired by it. But it is also possible to look at a good man and feel angry, spiteful, vengeful. To cover up our own sin by hating someone who does NOT sin. As Scripture puts it, “The wicked man plots against the virtuous and grinds his teeth at him”(Ps 37:12). And to be hated and killed by the wicked on account of your goodness is one of ways of being a ‘witness’ a ‘martyr’ for Christ.
And, to return to the reaction of the people of his day when he, St Edward, was killed –and I think the people of his day knew his context and the motives behind his killing better than we can claim to know them today –they could see two clear motives behind his death:
(1) The people of his day recognised that he was killed by EVIL people who hated him for his saintly life.
(2) Further, politically, they recognised that he was killed by people who hated the fact that he stood with the Church and for the Church despite the many political manoeuvrings of his day against the Church.
To conclude, What does this mean for us? It means that we, too, need to be willing to suffer for being good –just as St Edward did, just as the Lord Jesus did: They crucified Jesus, and He taught that following Him likewise bring the cross. But there are two things it also brings: (1) in this life, the strength, joy, and consolation of having the Lord with us because we are being with Him, and, (2) in the next life, the fulfilment of the promise we heard Him make, that “He will reward each one according to his behaviour”(Mt 16:27)