There is something in this Reading that seems strange to us. The souls of the martyrs in heaven are praying for vengeance upon the earth. As Christians, we are taught to turn the other cheek. "Vengeance is mine," saith the LORD. Why, then, do these saints in glory pray for vengeance? These souls of martyrs are freed from all sin, so it is especially puzzling to us why they would pray for such a thing.
It helps us to understand this passage if we realize that these prayers do not come from a selfish motive. The saints in glory are beyond any vindictive desire to get even.
Perhaps the saints in heaven are concerned with seeing God's reputation justified. They want justice done, not for their own sake. After all, the saints in glory are beyond any sorrow, grief, or pain. No, they want God's righteousness as Judge to be proved right. God is not a sloppy judge or an unfair judge. The saints in heaven want all the world to finally see that He is, indeed, the perfect and righteous Judge.
Or perhaps the saints in heaven are concerned with the safety of the saints on earth. Persecution constantly afflicts God's poor little church militant. Death and scorn are heaped upon her, day by day. So the saints in heaven want the tender Bride of Christ delivered from the troubles of this sinful world.
The real problem behind the prayers of the saints is this: God does not immediately avenge His Church. This is a problem because it looks as if our loving God does not care when the saints on earth are being attacked. During times of persecution, there are no lightning bolts coming down from heaven to strike down those who dare to afflict God's Church.
This is not only an ancient problem, concerning those times in centuries past when martyrs were made. Today, huge numbers of Christians are put to death for the true faith. At many times during the centuries, violence and bloodshed break out against the Holy Church. At those times, prayers have ascended from earth to the throne of God: "Lord, have mercy."
During the Reformation, the hymns of God's Church reflect these prayers for mercy and protection:
Thine honor save, O Christ our Lord! / Hear Zion's cries and help afford; / Destroy the wiles of mighty foes / Who now Thy Word and truth oppose.
O Lord our Father, shall we be confounded / Who, though by trials and by woes surrounded / On Thee alone for help are still relying, / to Thee are crying?
Zion mourns in fear and anguish, / Zion, city of our God. / "Ah," she says, "how sore I languish, / Bowed beneath the chastening rod!
The answer for the poor, struggling Church that feels that God has forsaken her is that God has not really forgotten her after all. He will see justice done in the end. The saints slaughtered by the world will be raised to glory, and the wicked will sink down to eternal shame. Even satan, our greatest enemy, will face condemnation:
O little flock, fear not the foe / Who madly seeks your overthrow; / Dread not his rage and power. / What, though your courage sometimes faints, / his seeming triumph o'er God's saints / Lasts but a little hour.
"How long, O Lord?" cry out the saints, both in heaven and on earth. "A little while longer," replies the Lord. Although the Lord measures time differently than we do, we know that the eternity that awaits us overshadows this brief, momentary life. A little while, indeed, and the Lord will return in triumph for all the world to see, and He will crown His Bride with majesty forever.
To comfort them, the saints in heaven are given white robes to wear. These white robes are the righteousness of Christ that they received at their Baptism. We also wear the same white robes. We are covered by the holiness of Christ, for we have put on Christ. He has covered over our sins and declared us innocent, just as He is the innocent, spotless Lamb.
Because we are clothed with Christ in Baptism, we must share in His sufferings. Like Him, we suffer first before entering glory. So we are comforted that we carry a similar burden to the one He carried, although our cross is far lighter and easier than Calvary. Also like Christ, beneath our humility and pain we have a hidden glory. We have Christ Himself dwelling in our flesh, so we need not be discouraged that we seem to fail and lose in this life. Christ does not fail! Christ does not lose! So we also are more than victorious, even in the shame and loss of this earthly life.
Unlike many martyrs, we probably will not be put to death because of our faith. Therefore, how much greater are the comforts that God gives to us! If the assurance of God's mercy is enough for those who were beheaded and burned and fed to animals, how much more is His mercy enough for us?
Yes, we also suffer. We give ourselves as living sacrifices for God and for our neighbor. We carry a cross with us. We die little deaths every day in our vocations. We are attacked by the flaming arrows of the evil one. If these things were not enough, we carry inside us the Old Adam, and we suffer his attacks constantly. That sinful flesh inflicts more than enough pain and sorrow upon us: self-inflicted wounds by which our sinful nature tries to lead us astray and away from the Church.
But in the midst all these things, God reassures us: We wear the white robe of Christ. We are washed clean and holy in the pure waters of Baptism. We are God's holy priesthood on earth.
Even we stand before God's throne as we pray. He hears our voice in our earthly afflictions. We cry out, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." He answers, "Yes, My Kingdom comes and My will is done. Very soon, in a little while, the Kingdom will be visible for all to see, and all will be made right, and all suffering will be at an end, and My justice will be seen by all."
Until that day, God's justice is hidden on the Cross. Every sin is punished there. God's justice is the death of Christ. God has avenged Himself upon all the sins of the earth already upon Calvary. His justice is already seen in the bloody wounds of the Lamb. God has struck back against humanity's crimes, even against our sins. Now His vengeance is satisfied in Christ, so that no wrath shall fall upon us. Only those who reject the grace of Christ shall feel His burning anger on the Last Day.
May we be content with the Cross and the Empty Tomb, until the Day that God's justice is revealed. Amen.
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