What Can One Person Do?

William Barclay tells the story (also found in Foxes’ Book of Martyrs) of Telemachus, a monk who lived in Asia Minor in the late fourth century AD. One day, Telemachus sensed that the Holy Spirit was encouraging him to leave his desert community and go to Rome. He believed that if he was to serve God he must also serve man, so he went to a place where there was much need. When Telemachus arrived in Rome he was caught up into a celebration of a recent victory by the Roman Legions over the Goths. As a part of a holiday festival a circus was being staged to honor the victorious general, Stilicho, who rode in triumph through the streets with the young Christian Emperor Honorius by his side. Telemachus was swept along by the crowds and soon found himself in the Coliseum filled with 80,000 people. The gladiatorial games still lingered from Rome’s pagan heritage. No longer were the Christians fed to the lions, but men still fought shamelessly and violently to the death while the crowds cheered them on with blood-lust. The bishops and priests spoke against these games, but most people were deaf to their message. Telemachus was appalled at the carnage. Men for whom Christ died were killing each other while a “Christian” society just sat and watched. He felt he had to do something, but what could one old monk do? He crawled over the barrier into the arena and ran between two hulking gladiators, separating them while crying out “Stop, in the name of Christ, stop!” At first the crowd laughed at the contrast between this tiny monk, still dressed in his hermit’s robes, and the huge combatants. He was merely pushed aside. However, when he continued to interfere the crowd grew annoyed and threw stones at him, calling for his death.  A gladiator’s sword was raised and quickly slashed the life out of the old monk. Telemachus lay dead in the middle of the arena. Suddenly the crowd was silent. They realized that a holy man had been killed for the cause of Christ. The shock of his death changed the hearts of the crowd. They saw the sin to which they had surrendered themselves. Emperor Honorius issued an edict that day – forbidding all future gladiatorial games. Sometimes when I am overwhelmed with the evil and injustice in this world and I ask, “But what can one guy do?” I think of Telemachus, and I think of Jesus who said “Whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:36).

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