“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion (ἀποβήσεται ὑμῖν) for testimony (εἰς μαρτύριον). Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess (κτήσασθε, gain possession of) your souls.” (Lk 21: 12-19)
This is one of the readings for today’s NC-feast of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste. These were soldiers in the army of the pagan Emperor Licinius (AD 308 – 324), made to stand all night in a freezing lake, before being executed for being who they were, and that is, Christians. The pagan authorities tried to coax the martyrs into denying their Christian identity and into becoming who they were not, i.e., pagans. But the martyrs persevered, in “patience,” and thus maintained “possession” of their souls, of their “selves” as God called them to be.
Most of us do not endure persecution in such an extreme fashion. Nonetheless, “possessing” or “owning” who we are, according to our vocation, according to what God calls us to be and to do, can be challenged on a daily basis in subtle ways. I might be challenged today, not to do or be what I am called to do or be, by people-pleasing and merely-human fears, by despondency and procrastination, or by idleness and idle talk. Let me approach these crippling “spirits,” if they rear their ugly heads today, “as an occasion for testimony,” to who it is I choose to be, and to Whom I choose to belong. I re-connect with God this morning, opening up my heart to His grace, that He may give me “a mouth and wisdom” to do and to be according to His good purpose for me. And if I fail today, on any “occasion for testimony,” I pray for the wisdom and courage to get up, dust myself off, and move forward, in the grace of “patience.” Holy martyrs, pray to God for us!