Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum,
Painted by Konstantin Flavitsky (1830-1866),
Painted in 1862,
Oil on Canvas
© The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg

Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum,
Painted by Konstantin Flavitsky (1830-1866),
Painted in 1862,
Oil on Canvas
© The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg

Gospel of 24 February 2024

Pray for those who persecute you

Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

Reflection on the painting

From today's Gospel passage it is clear that Jesus wants us to go beyond what we could do on our own. He calls us to love our enemies. He lived this out when he was crucified. Even at that very moment he loved everyone around him and showed unconditional love. It is easy to love the people who love us and who bring blessings on us; it is a whole lot harder to love people we don't particularly warm to or even like. But those are exactly the people Jesus is asking us to love too. Especially during Lent, our Lord can help lift us beyond what we think possible.

The first Christians had to put this into practice in a very real way, during the Roman persecutions. Our artist, Konstantin Flavitsky, depicts Christians about to be killed in the Colosseum in Rome. They are all gathered in the corridors of the arena. Flavitsky depicts the moment when the guards open the doors and push the Christians out, to be fed to the lions or be killed in any other cruel way for the entertainment of the Romans. The moral strength of the early Christians is on full display. The man on the left holding aloft a cross has resolve and is ready to face death in the name of Christ. That small cross in our painting is one of the first things we notice. It is set against the brightness of light. Christian children, women, men are ready to give their lives for their faith. They prayed for those who persecuted them and put today's Gospel reading into practice in a very tangible way.

‘Love your enemies and pray...’: Jesus suggests that to pray for those who persecute us is to do something that has a divine quality to it. It is to give expression to the love of God which goes out to all, even to those whom we think least deserve it.

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Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
1 month ago

“Judge not that ye be not judged.” That seems to go in tandem with the exhortation to pray for our enemies, those with whom we’ve had a disagreement. That can be a major thing, but we judge people every day for the smallest thing, what they say, what they do, how they look: “what does she look like in that dress”, etc. Is what seems harmless really so harmless?
I find the picture extremely sad. I don’t see Christians going quietly to their deaths, the father is wrenching the little boy from his mother who has fallen backwards with her baby tumbling from her arms; others are embracing for the last time. They were ‘faithful unto death’, but the final moments, as portrayed here, are moments of emotional turmoil, making them seem all the braver for following the path of faith.

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
1 month ago

“Scale” is the key property in our information technology era. Start small, succeed, and then the cost of scaling to a mass following is low. Hating your enemies seems to scale. Dear Lord Jesus, how we need your divine intervention to scale back the hatred and to scale up love. And let it begin with me.

P Thornley
Member
P Thornley
1 month ago

I was reading this (in Italian you’ll be pleased to know) this morning and I love Flavitsky’s martyrdom painting. Interestingly, that idea that martyrdoms took place in the Colosseum is quite late – 17th century. Although there’s evidence of them happening in amphitheatres in other places there isn’t a sign of it happening in the Colosseum; in Rome the martyrdoms happened elsewhere. Its a great piece of work though and I like the things you point out about the light and the cross which are the key to his theme.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
1 month ago

‘Especially during Lent, our Lord can help lift us beyond what we think possible.’

What inspiring words these are from Father Patrick this morning, and how much I needed to read them. It has been a very challenging week for me and for people I know. Two very sudden, unexpected deaths affecting people close to me, a funeral and my brother being told he is too sick for his treatment to start.

One of the deaths was our PP’s brother, who as been living with him for about a year. The other an old school friend who lived in Spain. Apaprently, before her English relatives could fly out there the funeral had already taken place. The family are devastated but said this happens in Spain, very quick dispatching of the deceased. I know we have some people here who know Spain well. Is this true?

I must now dash, but those words of Father’s will stay with me today. Let’s dare to hope, be courageous and aways trust in the goodness of the Lord who lifts us up just when we have no means left to do it on our own.

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
1 month ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

I’m so sorry for your losses, SfG. It’s true that funerals take place very quickly in Spain, sometimes within 24 – 48 hours. They can be delayed further, but this can incur extra expense because of retaining the body in the morgue.
We continue to pray for your brother and family, may the Lord continue to uphold you all.

Debbie Thompson
Member
Debbie Thompson
1 month ago

A difficult reading for me on a Russian painting on the 2nd anniversary of the Ukraine war, and yet strangely apt. My husband and I hosted a Ukrainian family, a young Mum and her 7 year old daughter who had to flee their home under fire and have lost everything. Dad had to stay in Ukraine, working for the government. They lived with us for a year. I pray for peace today and for those who persecuted this lovely family and thousands more, that they would turn their back on evil and that all the displaced can return home.

Elizabeth Hampton
Member
Elizabeth Hampton
1 month ago

Anyone who saw Noelle’s post about reconciliation and forgiveness yesterday to which I replied with my particular family quandary will see God’s direct answer to me in today’s gospel and Fr Patrick’s reflection. Thank you, Noelle, too, for your kind response. For God’s grace and the path to forgiveness, I am eternally grateful.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago

How terrible!
I’ve just been watching a BBC report on the suffering visited on the people of Ukraine. Families split, fathers drafted into the army, grannies dying from stress. We in the west live in a bubble of peace and wealth but I wonder now how long it will last.
I must stop being downbeat but I know I’m not the only one thinking these thoughts….

Thimas@
Member
Thimas@
1 month ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Our peace will last as long as we support Ukraine. We cannot allow Putin to have an inch. NATO was weak they should have put their foot down in 2014 when Putin and his cronies took Crimea. If you watch the rise of the Nazis on BBC iPlayer you’ll see a lot of similarities.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
1 month ago
Reply to  Thimas@

I quite agree with you Thimas 😮

Mike Baird
Member
Mike Baird
1 month ago

Jesus raises the bar on what it means to be a follower of him. Pray for my persecutors, love my enemies. This is the test of an authentic Christian.

My human nature wants to curse my persecutors and hate my enemies. The world would welcome and applaud me as one of its own. I am called to something greater, something divine.

Easy to achieve? Jesus never says that. He just does it and then turns, beckons me and says, “Come, follow me”.

Lord, with you all things are possible. I place my trust in you.

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