Today we honor the life and work of Bernard Mizeki. Bernard was born in 1861 in what is now known as Mozambique. In his teens, he escaped from his native land and fled to Cape Town, South Africa. There he was converted by Anglican missionaries and baptized. In 1891, he volunteered as a catechist for the pioneer mission to Mashonaland. In 1896, an uprising of the native people happened against the Europeans and their African friends, making him a target. Bernard was warned to flee, but he refused to desert his converts. He was stabbed to death, but his body was never found, and the site of his burial is unknown. There is a shrine near the place of his martyrdom, and he is honored as a native martyr and witness.
Bernard must have been familiar with Jesus Christ’s words from Luke’s gospel today. Jesus is preparing the disciples for a great ordeal. When Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body …”, Jesus takes the disciples somewhere quite scary. The disciples will be persecuted, put on trial, and even killed. In the face of such a serious commitment, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid…the Holy Spirit will teach you what to say.” Jesus Christ warns the disciples that this will be no easy journey – at least not easy in all the conventional ways. As long as they can give up their fear of death, persecution, and humiliation, they will be fine. Not hard at all, huh, Jesus?!?
When we hear Jesus Christ’s counsel today and when we hear of martyrs like Bernard, I am sure most of us tune out. We are unlikely to face a similar fate in our lives. And yet, their witness is still strong for us today. What Jesus and Bernard highlight are those moments of clarity, those moments of utmost importance: when our bodies are wracked with illness and nothing else is clear but our love of God; when a loved one is near death and the holy is all that matters; when an injustice is so grave to us that we cannot sit idly by. Those are the moments in life that define us, that define our faith and our relationship with God. Jesus and Bernard remind us that those are the moments where we find true meaning in life – and no matter how scary they seem now, we will not be afraid. Amen.