The subject of martyrs may be surprising. But martyrs have been around a long time. Martyrs are those that are willing to die for a cause. Often we associate martyrs with religious faith. Stephen is considered the first Christian martyr – a man who died for his faith in Jesus. But he is far from the only one.
Martyrs, while admired for their faithfulness are often ignored though in society. Society doesn’t like to think about the death aspect of being a martyr. Often, not many years after someone becomes a martyr, a society will start to view the martyr far differently than when the martyr was alive. Usually martyrs will be seen in a positive light by society after the fact. This has always been interesting to me.
Take MLK, Jr. When he was alive, society did not have nice things to say about him. He was reviled, jailed, called names, beaten. He was ridiculed by media and those in positions of power.
And yet, those same people and institutions eventually turned around and sang his praise. Maybe it’s a situation where they wanted to look innocent. Maybe they had a change of heart. Maybe.
Martyrs ultimately win though. I think this is the case because they don’t fear death. For a martyr, all death does is make permanent what already exists. A Martyr’s words and expression of action proclaim the reality of the injustice they refuse to comply with. Death just showcases that a martyr will not give in to oppression, injustice, and evil. A Martyr will not be intimidated or live in fear. A martyr will refuse to make excuses for evil.
For all eternity, it will be known that the oppressor was nothing more than a toddler throwing a violent tantrum because he didn’t get what he wanted – willing compliance from the martyr. The arguments of the oppressor were weak at best. They couldn’t convince the martyr to just give in.
Oppression works that way. It gives the appearance of strength and might. But in reality, the oppressor is rather weak. The oppressor has weak arguments. Weak logic. No patience. No morals. Oppressors are empty really. Killing someone who actually stands for something shows how empty and worthless oppression truly is.
Things that are empty don’t last. They have no foundation. They are selfish. They are narcissistic. They end violently.
Oppression is so weak that it has to hide when it is exposed. It needs excuses for why is should exist. It needs permission to exist actually. And as long as people either support oppression or give silent consent, oppression can exist. But eventually that goes away too. Light has that effect on darkness – it exposes what is there. And oppression is ugly. When the light shines on it and we are forced to look at it (often being forced to look is the only way to end the support or silent consent) we see it for what it is and we don’t want to be associated with it any longer. Because we don’t it’s mark on us.
Martyrs ultimately win because they are full, while oppression is empty. They are full of faith. They are full of light. They are full of calling the thing what it is. They are theologians of the cross.