They’re supposed to be safe there but they’re not. They’re vulnerable. Say the holy words. Remember Issa. — Homeland, Abu Nazir
Are you a martyr? This word carries with it certain connotations today. These are not necessarily the best or most loving connotations. Especially in the wake of terrorism and jihadism in the twenty-first century, martyrdom is associated with killing (often suicidal) for a religious cause. Or it is associated with dying, being killed, for belonging to a certain religious group, persecuted, often times, by a different religious group. But it was not always defined in this manner.
In ancient Greek, the word ‘martyr’ simply means witness. It carried some of the legal sense that it still carries today in English, but it was more than that as well. To be a witness, one pointed beyond one’s self to something inviolate, something true, something beautiful. In pre-Constantinian christianity, martyrdom was a witnessing to the person of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who died, was buried and was raised again. The only reward for martyrdom was a participation in the suffering of Christ. Martyrdom was not something to be sought, but not something to be shunned either. In the full sense of the term, it was something to be suffered.
This brings us to the schema of witnessing, of being a martyr. To be a witness, one does point at something beyond one’s self. It ultimately does not concern you or a reward to be inherited. The thing or event or truth witnessed to demands it because of its truth, its beauty. Witnessing is something suffered. It does not take truth or justice into its own hands. It delivers them up to those inquiring. Witnessing does not kill, and it will suffer to die if that is the cost and the price of truth.
May each of us learn to witness well. May we not be driven by hate, but by love and compassion. May we learn to express the truth that we see in ways that can be heard by many. Whether it is at work or at play, may our lives, our actions and our words, demonstrate the hope and the love we have. May we not tire, and may we have the courage to speak boldly and truthfully against unjust structures and those who use their power not for the common good. And in this way, may we live our lives as martyrs, witnesses, to the work and the love of God.