People seem to have quite remarkable instincts for self-sacrifice. Millions of people have taken rapid or slow decisions that their deaths would be in the interests of a cause that they hold dear. Jesus was probably not the first to do this, and He was certainly not the last. We hold His example very dear. This page is not enough even to list the causes that people have given their lives for.
Sometimes, there is uncertainty about the outcome, but the martyr is prepared to take the risk. Those wonderful people trying to stem the tide of the Ebola virus come to mind. Sometimes, however, there is no uncertainty at all. A sacrifice is required and the martyr steps forward. Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov, for instance, leapt into a radioactive pool at the Chernobyl nuclear facilty in order to stop a catastrophic escalation of the blast, in doing so, they saved the lives of many of us throughout the world and condemned themselves to a lingering and painful death.
More commonly, it is a human crisis; one created by someone in power. Friar Maximilian Kolbe, for instance, stepped forward in Auschwitz to volunteer for execution to save a family man from the same fate. Saint Maximillian, as he is now known.
With this cloud of witnesses and stirring examples before us, it is remarkable that we are so intent on our own comfort. When faced with a serious issue, a miscarriage of justice, a mistaken political decision, a cruelty perpetrated by some powerful organisation, some of us are prepared to go as far as to write to our MP.
Peter and John, in Acts 4 were imprisoned and arraigned before a court of the most powerful people in their community. They were given the opportunity to toe the line, to conform to convention, to stick with orthodoxy. Instead, they chose to stand up and be counted as being Jesus-Shaped People, an action that later led to their unpleasant deaths. They were heedless of their own safety if it meant that other people could receive the life-enhancing message of love.
How are we to deal with what we perceive to be evil? How will we respond when we are given the chance to sacrifice to give others a better life? It might not be that we are called upon to surrender life itself; it may not be a grand gesture that is called for; it may “just” be an incremental contribution to the improvement of God’s world that incidentally makes a day less convenient for us. When the chips are down, are we prepared to stand up and be counted?
This is a series of reflections on the early part of the book of Acts of the Apostles. By looking at how the Early Church had to change as its members tried to become more Jesus-shaped, and to create an organization of which Jesus might approve, we can get pointers as to how we might have to change too.