Zechariah 8:1-8; Luke 9:46-50
The readings from Zechariah and Luke may not be a study in contrasts, but they certainly point in different directions. On the one hand, the reading from the prophet Zechariah paints an ideal picture. Jerusalem is restored and at peace; the elderly sit and watch as children play in her streets; God dwells among his people. The gospel, on the other hand, presents us with a different picture; it hints at pride and mistrust among the Apostles; first they dispute who is the greatest in the kingdom, then they attempt to stop the good work done by an outsider in the name of Christ.
Light can be shed on these contrasting images as we contemplate the life and example of a saint whose memorial we celebrate today. San Lorenzo Ruiz was born around the year 1600 in the Philippines. Raised as a good, practicing Catholic, he married, fathered three children, and worked as a gifted calligrapher. His life was forever altered when, under mysterious and murky circumstances, he was falsely accused of murder. Forced to flee his native country, he learned of a Dominican mission to the Orient and volunteered to serve. During the voyage, Lorenzo learned that the destination was the country of Japan.
Let us reflect for a moment on a verse from the prophet Zechariah: Lo, I will rescue my people from the land of the rising sun (Zechariah 8:7). Speaking through the prophet, God revealed his plan to rescue Israel from the kingdom of Persia, which was known as the land of the rising sun. A thousand years later in the time of San Lorenzo, the missionaries planned to continue evangelizing in the islands of Japan, known then (and now) as the land of the rising sun.
They knew there would be trouble. To the Japanese authorities, the missionaries were unwelcome outsiders who were to be brutally put down. Soon after landing, they were captured, imprisoned, and tortured. It is said that when his captors asked if he would renounce his faith to save his life, San Lorenzo responded, “I am a Christian and I shall die for God, and for him I would give many thousands of lives if I had them.” He was martyred not long after this.
Lo, I will rescue my people from the land of the rising sun. These consoling words spoken by God through Zechariah were also spoken by God through the lives of San Lorenzo Ruiz and his companions who brought the gospel to the land of the rising sun. While there were those who preferred the darkness enough to kill the light-bearers, they could not kill the light, for Christ is the light that the darkness cannot overcome.
We should not speak of the darkness as if it were always outside ourselves; the Apostles’ behavior shows that darkness exists inside as well. Our own sinfulness works against our efforts to live and preach the gospel. Regardless, the example of San Lorenzo Ruiz demonstrates that when we resolve to put our faith in God’s ability to work in us, through us, and despite us, we will be successful.
As Christ commissioned San Lorenzo and his companions, so he commissions us. We are the light of the world; not the light of the rising sun but the light of the risen Son.
San Lorenzo Ruiz, pray for us.