As we read about Jesus Christ in scripture we also remember the saints who follow him. Reading the Gospel of Mark this week, we also remember a young girl, Agnes, and a soldier, Sebastian. They made him known to Christians in the 4th century, and now to us, by following him into the mystery of his death and resurrection.
Mark’s Gospel says the scribes, Pharisees and Herodians saw Jesus as a danger to their society and brought him to his death. Roman judges and leaders saw Agnes challenging the norms of their world, and Sebastian betraying their military code. They must die. Their stories correspond well with Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and his eventual death and resurrection in Jerusalem.They were treated unjustly.
The two Roman martyrs must also have faced rejection by their own families and friends, as Jesus faced rejection in Nazareth. Jesus is not the only one who bears the mystery of the Cross; his followers bear it too. In fact, it’s part of everyone’s life.
Yet Mark’s Gospel sees him going forward, drawing crowds, casting out demons, forging ahead to new ground in spite of opposition. The mystery of the Cross leads to Resurrection and the coming of God’s kingdom. It does not end in death.
Nor are the stories of martyrs grim stories of death; they share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.“ If you can have some share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad, because you will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13-14) The martyrs follow the Suffering Christ–as one sees already in the story of first martyr, Stephen, so carefully crafted to show Stephen following him.
Waiting for an executioner’s sword in the arena, Agnes also sees the heavens open and with arms outstretched says: “ I pray to you, holy Father; behold, I am coming to you, whom I have loved, whom I have sought, whom I have always desired.”
Reading the scriptures, we also remember the saints, young girls and soldiers, men and women from every time and place, who heard the same Word we do and believed in that Word. They say : “Follow him.”