Saint Paul Miki and Companions – Readings

Saint Paul Miki and Companions – Commentary on Galatians 2:19-20 or 2 Maccabees 7:1a, 20-23; Ps 113; Matt 28:16-20

The Gospel reading is from the very end of Matthew’s gospel. We find the disciples of Jesus gathered, at his instructions, on a mountain in Galilee, the scene of most of Jesus’ public life and where many of his disciples came from. It is after the resurrection and the disciples have some problems in recognising their Risen Master. They have to learn that the Risen Jesus is to be recognised in many different faces, in fact, in the face of every one of his followers. Jesus is about to leave them to go to his Father but, before he goes, he passes on his mission to them. They are to do what he did. “Go, therefore,” he tells them, “and make disciples of all nations – baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And they are to teach the new followers just what Jesus had taught them, in other words, all that we read in the Gospel. And then there is the final word of encouragement: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” This is a reminder of the message given to Joseph when he was told that he should take Mary, already pregnant with child, as his wife. He was reminded that the virgin mother had been foretold by Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel.” And Matthew tells us that ‘Emmanuel’ means ‘God is with us’. Jesus is now telling his disciples and all other followers that he is Emmanuel, that he will be with his followers for ever. It was in their obeying of these instructions, making disciples for Christ and baptising them, that Paul Miki and his companions were persecuted, arrested and at the end cynically condemned to the same fate as their Master – death on a cross.

And in the first of today’s optional First Readings, which is from the Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul utters words which are perfectly fitted to the martyrdom of the Japanese Paul and his companions: “I have been crucified (literally, co-crucified, sun-estauromai, sun-‘estaurwmai) with Christ; yet I live no longer, but Christ lives in me.” Could there be a more perfect identification with Christ than that manifested by these Nagasaki martyrs?

The alternative First Reading is from the Second Book of Maccabees. It is from the passage where seven brothers are tempted by the Syrian King Antiochus to eat pork and thus disown their Jewish faith with the promise of all kinds of privileges if they do. They all refuse and one by one are executed in each other’s presence and in the presence of their mother, who secretly encourages them to remain faithful. Today’s reading contains the words that she spoke to each of them. She tells them that their physical death will not be the end but the doorway to a much better life: “Since it is the creator of the universe who shapes each one’s beginning, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.” Words which can be equally well applied to Paul Miki and his 25 companions who disregarded their own temporal interests to identify themselves with their crucified Saviour, confident they would rise with him. “This day you will be with me.”

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