In today’s Gospel, (Matthew 2:13-23) we read that King Herod sent his soldiers to kill all the boys in Bethlehem under two years of age, in order to eliminate Jesus whom the wise men had told him was the Messiah. In the church these children are called the Holy Innocents and are considered to be the first Christian martyrs, although of course, they did not actually know Jesus. Nonetheless, this points to the fact that those who are associated with Christ who are His followers have often suffered torture and death.
We know that many thousands of Christians die as martyrs every year and more are tortured, imprisoned or thrown out of their homes. Nevertheless, this seems a little distant from us because we live in a country where religious freedom is protected by law. However, the original meaning of the Greek word “martyr” is simply witness, so any one who witnesses to Christ is technically a martyr. However in the days of the early church, as now, in many places to bear witness to Christ meant one died.
The Roman Empire was actually very tolerant. One could practice the religion one chose to. All one had to do in order to be tolerated was to burn a piece of incense and say “Caesar is Lord”. Then one was free to believe and practice any religion one wanted. But this would not do for the early Christians, as for us “Jesus is Lord” and no one else.
We as Christians are called upon to bear witness to our faith. This may not get us imprisoned or killed, but we may be the subject of laughter, derision or even hostility, because of course, in our society there are people who dislike Christians or who think them foolish for believing in God. But bearing witness to Christ doesn’t only involve saying that one believes in Him, although it may very well involve this. We have to put our faith into practice through acts of love and forgiveness. In the early days of the church even hostile Roman citizens would say about the Christians “see how they love one another.” Therefore by peacefully confessing our faith in the one true God and his Son Jesus Christ and striving to lead, with God’s help, lives of charity and forgiveness, we are bearing witness to Christ.