Sunday, February 8, 2015
Paul had been called to preach a Gospel that the world found foolish yet was truer than any story ever told. Paul had been charged to tell the grand story of how God had created humans in God's own image but humanity had turned its back upon God. In the stunning climax, God became human to redeem those whom God loved even as they continued to reject God. For being a preacher and a storyteller, he was regarded as an oddity in Japan at first. Eventually, though, this surprise turned to hatred as those who came to power had no room in their world for a man like Paul who had turned his back upon his nation in their estimation. By swearing their allegiance to God, Paul and his fellow Christians threatened the power that the ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi--known as Taikosama--held.
Ironically, the rulers an leaders of Japan had initially been the ones who welcomed Christian missionaries to Japanese shores. They had welcomed them gladly because they knew that Western powers endorsed the Christian churches and they suspected that this would increase trade possibilities. Further, the rulers had grown somewhat uncomfortable with the Buddhist monks who would not do as they told them to do and felt that an influx of Christianity could limit the power of the monks. Yet, as Christianity grew in both Japan and the Philippines, they became aware that it demanded more and more allegiance from its members than they were comfortable with their citizens giving away. Further, it seemed that the politically savvy among the western powers knew better how to manipulate the Christian churches to gain power in foreign locations.Soon, Christianity was banned in Japan and those who swore allegiance to Jesus were executed for it. Ministers and vocal Christians were martyred and persecuted. Paul and his companions were twenty-six of the victims.
They refused to deny their faith and so they were gathered in chains and sentenced to march to Nagasaki while singing a hymn--for all six hundred miles. It took nearly thirty days for the soon-to-be-martyrs to arrive in Nagasaki and they greeted the day that they arrived with renewed singing and rejoicing. They were brought before twenty-six crosses and they met them with joy. One of the twenty-six, a man named Gonsalo, rushed forward unaware of how tragic this experience was supposed to be and pointed at a nearby cross, "Is this one mine?" he asked hopefully. Taken aback, nobody responded to him at first but eventually one of the soldiers indicated which cross was his. He knelt down and embraced it with tears in his eyes. Slowly, they were affixed to their crosses while they sang hymns and joked with each other. Paul was so short that when bound to the cross his feet could not reach the support and so they were forced to bind him to the cross by tying him under his arms and across his chest. One soldier stepped on Paul's chest as he tightened the knot and a minister among them complained at the brutality but Paul insisted that it was okay because the man was just doing his job.
Once the crosses were raised Paul began preaching to the awestruck crowd. They had come to see the power of the Japanese rulers and had found willing martyrs proclaiming life even as they slipped into death. The soldiers were amazed and some were converted. The crowds listened to Paul as he preached and proclaimed his own forgiveness of the people and the powers who persecuted and executed the Body of Christ. All twenty-six of them died as the powers of Japan tried to prove their dominance. All they had proven was that despite their own political machinations, the Kingdom of God had arrived in Japan and could not be turned back.