Thursday, June 6, 2013

Polycarp: rigid or right?

The intro to Poly's martyrdom sets for the purpose of the event: it took place that the Lord might show us from above a martyrdom becoming the Gospel.  That we also might become his followers.  It shows how seriously they believed in Jesus and not Caesar.  They gave their lives for a closed-minded belief in Christ.

"Who can fail to admire the nobleness of mind, and their patience with that love towards their Lord which they displayed?"  They let their bodies be laid open without a sigh or a groan escaping, according to this author.  When they became absent from the body, our Lord stood by them and communed with them. 

I doubt these martyrs died without flinching or even screaming, though it is possible.  The certainty is that Jesus did indeed stand by them in their deaths and communed with them.  He transported their souls into his eternal presence.  He did that for Stephen in Acts 7, and his Spirit is always with people who defend the faith with their words.

"The devil invented many things against them, but thanks be to God, he could not prevail over all."  The author mentions Germanicus who made others less timid by his own patience in fighting wild beasts in a Roman stadium.  Others, like Quintus from Phrygia, became afraid and gave themselves up as apostate.  True faith will last even in the face of gladiators, wild beasts, and fire.  False disciples will show their true colors when persecution arises.

Now begins the account of Poly's death.  When he first heard that he was sought for, he was not disturbed but continued ministering in the city of Smyrna.  He prayed day and night for all men.  He saw a vision of his pillow burning and said prophetically, "I must be burnt alive."  I wonder if God lets a lot of people know they will suffer in death before the fact.  There are people who seem to know that they will be killed.  Would that be any comfort or would I rather just go unexpectedly?  I have no clue.

Poly hid from his seekers.  They seized two young men, and under torture, one of them betrayed Polycarp's location.  Is the author right to compare him to Judas?  I don't think so.  He was young and scared.  Can Polycarp never say he was young and scared at some point?  How about this author?  Everybody has a history as John Mark who flees when young and later grows up to write the second Gospel in the New Testament.

He might have escaped when they found him on the roof of a house, but he refused saying, "The will of God be done."  He prayed so fervently that his captors were sorry that they had to take such a godly and venerable old man.  Nonetheless, they continued to arrest him.  Irenarch Herod asked Poly, "What harm is there in saying 'Lord Caesar,' and in sacrificing...and so make sure of safety?"  Most of the weaker people in their faith saw no reason to not throw incense into a flame just to keep from dying.  Many today see no problem with potential rituals such as yoga or saying mantras.  What harm is that?  What if it was illegal not to do those things?  Would you give in to save your life, or would you consider fidelity to Christ more important than being cool?

A voice from heaven told Poly, "Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!"  He replied, "Away with the atheists!  Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never dead me any injury.  How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?"  He declared himself a Christian amid urges to venerate Caesar.  Not worship, just venerate him.  Even if he had not been burned to the stake, people would have shunned him for being so rigid.  However, the Lord calls us to be rigid.

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