Memorial of the First Martyrs of Rome



Gn 17:1,9,10,15-22; Ps 128:1-5; Mt 8:1-4
“Blessed are you who fear the LORD.”

Today we remember the First Martyrs of the Roman Church. Many of these go unnamed, and are hidden with Christ in God. We have forgotten their names, but they did not forget the statutes of the LORD. They remembered daily, and faithfully lived the covenant they professed with their mouths. These bold witnesses did not hate the discipline of the LORD, even when that discipline demanded the ultimate sacrifice.
In retrospect we can see that God has a plan. It is a covenant plan. The LORD God Almighty has a plan, and in this plan He will be our God, and we will be His People. Indeed, our only blessing is to live in the fear of the LORD. This fear has nothing to do with being afraid of God. It has everything to do with being afraid of ourselves. We need not be afraid that the LORD will be unfaithful, but we need to be afraid that we will be unfaithful. We hesitate to walk in his ways. We do not fully understand His Ways, and we refuse to do surrender our best judgment, our common sense ways, for His Ways. We hunger and thirst for holiness, and he promises us that we shall eat of the fruit of our handiwork. We will eat this fruit and we will be blessed and favored. The intimacy of married couples will bear the fruit of blessed children in the recesses of our homes. Our children will be like olive plants around our table. They will nourish us with the goodness we invest in them. This is the abundant life promised by the Lord Jesus for all who live in the fear of the LORD. This fear is awe and wonder in his presence; awe and wonder at his power and pleasure to make us his own People. This is the blessing of the City of Zion. This is the prosperity of the City of Jerusalem all the days of our life.

The LORD does not hesitate or hold back. He appears to Abram and declares his presence, "I am God the Almighty." Not only does He reveal his presence, the LORD also reveals his expectation for all who are in covenant with him, "Walk in my presence and be blameless." The Lord Jesus makes a similar demand when he declares, "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." These expectations seem impossible, and without the LORD's constant help and mercy, indeed, they are impossible demands. Abraham and Sarah thought that the LORD's expectation of them to conceive and bear a child at such an old age was impossible, at least laughable. The covenant promise God made to Abraham and Sarah is to be accomplished by his power. He is the Father from all eternity and his fatherhood is not dependant upon human nature. By his power the Father will make Sarah a mother and Abraham a father, even though they are beyond the years of childbearing. It is his holy and perfect will that their son, Isaac, will continue to bear countless offspring for his glory. Only when our ancestors in faith abandon their hesitation and begin to trust in the LORD's power to save them will they find the covenant blessing. We too, are summoned by this Word of the Lord to trust the Father who loves us and gives us all we need to fulfill his plan and purpose in our lives, no matter how impossible or laughable it seems from our limited human perspective.
The Lord Jesus descended from the Mountain of Transfiguration. When he arrived back in the valley of daily life many gathered around to follow him. Perhaps they were attracted by the lingering glory of the mountaintop experience. Perhaps they were curious about how he would deal with a leper. In the fear of the Lord the leper approached this great teacher. He did not know the Master personally, and no doubt he was hesitant in drawing near. All he knew is that the Lord Jesus had a reputation of healing, and he desperately needed healing. He was suffering from disease. He was suffering from isolation in the company of other lepers. What did he have to loose? He approached and offered the Master the expected homage then he made his plea, "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean." Such courage and such fear of the Lord were beautiful in the sight of the Lord Jesus. He did not hesitate in the least, the Lord responded, "I will do it. Be made clean." This leper bore the disease and isolation of us all. His aliment and his isolation did not make him afraid to ask for what he needed. Our sins and vices have made us unclean and isolated, we too need to ask if we want to be made new. The Lord's response to us will be immediate and effective, if and only if we approach in trust. Then, we too will be commanded to show ourselves to the priest and offer the gift that Moses prescribed. Today we offer a thanksgiving sacrifice for the Lord, as the New Moses has prescribed at the Last Supper. Indeed, He has touched us with his healing compassion and we are completely new, totally healed. Now, we are no longer isolate. Now, we share in the joyful fellowship of the saints and angels, forever.