"I am sending you out like lambs among wolves," said the Lord to the seventy-two; and we know that the wolves are still prowling all around us, even now. Yet we are called to believe that, through the Cross, Christ's victory over evil has already been won. C.S. Lewis explains this paradox by saying that we Christians are like soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. Even though the war is over, we are still in occupied territory.
One man who was in such occupied territory not just spiritually, but literally too, is remembered by the Church this week. Born in 1912 in Melanesia, Peter To Rot was part of the second generation of Christian converts in the area. A man of great faith, he became a catechist. During the war, the Japanese occupied his island and enclosed all missionaries in camps, Peter among them. There, he organised services, baptised children, and tended the sick and dying. All this he did in a church he made himself out of branches, since the occupiers had destroyed all Christian buildings. When the Japanese eventually banned Christianity altogether, they arrested Peter and sentenced him to gaol. There, he was injected with poison, had his nose and ears stuffed with cotton wool, and was finally smothered to death. Sunday is the anniversary of his death, marked with great fervour by Christians in Melanesia to this day.
Yet in Sunday's Gospel reading, Jesus did not send His disciples out alone and unsupported. They went out to places where Jesus Himself later intended to follow. They were just the reconnaissance party. So was Peter To Rot, and so are we. Every drop of the martyrs' blood fertilises strong new roots and branches of that Kingdom which cannot be crushed by any empire, because it has been won deeply in the battlefield of the human heart. We are sent to hold the ground until the banner of the Cross comes and dispels its occupying sins. Then the torturers, the gaolers and the despots will be no more.