A theology of heroism and martyrdom


“The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy.  I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness.” – John 10:10

National Heroes Day

The month of August is a time for us to remember the lives of our national heroes (Aug. 26). We also commemorate particularly the life and death of one of our modern-day heroes and martyrs, the late Former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr.  His brutal assassination on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport (August 21) marked the beginning of the end of an era of Martial Rule that claimed thousands of precious lives of young men and women.

I think one of the reasons why we have very few leaders today who have a genuine love for the country is due to the fact that many of them had been victimized by the long years of dictatorship.  Many have been tortured to death; others simply disappeared, while still others have gone underground.  But worst of all, some have also been swallowed up by the very system that spawned oppression and injustice.

Indeed, it is quite ironic that we give due honor and respect to our country’s heroes and martyrs, like Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Del Pilar and others who were actually young activists during their time, yet we go after young activists today as if they were criminals.  Of course, we know for a fact that our heroes and martyrs were also despised and rejected by the authorities during their time.

In his mission statement, Jesus Christ our Lord said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.  I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness” (John 10:10).  And so, we affirm Jesus Christ exemplifies life in all its fullness.  But what do we mean by this?

Life in Christ

First of all, life in all its fullness is more than just economic.  For John the Gospel writer, a life that is significant and meaningful is a life that is lived in Christ.  To have the fullness of life is not just to have a new house, new clothes, a new car, new gadgets or what have you.  While these constitute the amenities of life, the fullness of life is more than all these things.  To have the fullness of life is to live in Christ or to live the life of Christ.

The life of Christ is a life that does not steal, kill, and destroy.  A life that steals, kills, and destroys is the life of thieves as Jesus said.  It is a selfish or self-centered kind of life. Jesus called the Temple in Jerusalem a “hideout of thieves!”(Lk.19:46).  For many of those who were serving in the Temple at that time were using religious laws to exact temple revenues from the common people for their own selfish gain.  Perhaps, many would also call today’s house of congress as a “house of thieves” due to rampant corruption.

Life for Others

Moreover, the life of Christ is a life that is willing to be given up for others in obedience to God the Father.  This is the kind of life that constitutes the life of heroes and martyrs.  Jesus said, “I am willing to give up my life, in order that I may receive it back again. This is what my Father commanded me to do” (Jn.10:17-18).  The life of Christ, therefore, is not only a life full of love and hope but also a life of obedience to God the Father in the service of the people.

Jesus came into this world at the time when Palestine was a colony of the Roman Empire.  His coming was obviously a threat to the powers-that-be.  However, it was a source of hope for those who were driven to the periphery of society – the sick, the sinners and outcasts – those who were without hope.   His coming was a source of life for those considered non-existent.  Jesus took them up and placed them at the very center of God’s Kingdom.  “Blessed are you poor”, he said, “for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20).

Nation in Crisis

The crisis we are experiencing today as a nation is no different from that of Jesus’ time.  A noted economist, Alejandro Lichauco, had vividly described our nation’s situation in this manner: “We are like inside a tunnel,” he said. “We saw a light at the end of the tunnel, but only to find out that that light is coming from the train that is approaching us.”  It is a situation of no escape, a situation where there is no hope, where there is no life.

However, in the words of Apostle Paul, we could say, “We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).  This, I believe, should be our Christian attitude in the face of crisis. There is always hope even in the midst of hopelessness.

God of Justice

Onetime, I had the chance to listen to the recorded speeches of Ninoy Aquino when he was in New York.  I was personally impressed by his analysis of Philippine society and the way he articulated his ideas.  One of the most moving parts of his speech was when he recounted his experiences while he was in prison for no less than seven years under the Marcos dictatorship for no reason according to him other than “telling the truth”.  In his speech, he expressed his utter despair and hopelessness while in prison.  But then he said, “The thing that sustained me in my seven years in prison is my faith in the God of justice.”

Indeed, faith in the God of justice is the power of life that sustains heroes and martyrs in their struggles for genuine peace and freedom. It is this kind of faith that gives life to heroes and martyrs even beyond death. Heroes and martyrs continue to live today because of their living faith in the God of justice.  The life of Jesus Christ our Lord is life in all its fullness because it is a life that sustains and leads us to the God of justice and also calls us to live the same kind of life that Jesus lived.  Amen. #nordis.net





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