Until He was thirty years of age, Christ’s life was largely hidden. When He began his public ministry, He went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read aloud a passage from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he has anointed me; to bring good news to the poor he has sent me, to proclaim to the captives release, and sight to the blind; to set at liberty the oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of recompense (Isa. 61:1). After reading it He said: “Today this scripture you have heard has been fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:20)”. But He also said to those who were listening to Him: “Amen I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country” (Luke 4: 24).
“His own people did not accept him” (John 1:11). They were unwilling to accept that a carpenter’s son was truly the one he claimed to be “And they took offense at him . . . because of their unbelief he did not work many miracles there” (Matthew 13: 55-58). Christ left Nazareth and began to teach in towns and villages throughout Galilee bearing witness to the truth of which He had been sent by the Father.
Christ was a martyr to Truth, a value that meant very little to a sceptical Pontius Pilate who asked, “What is truth?” But Christ remarked, “I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (John 18: 35-37). In his book Sign of Contradiction John Paul II regards “truth honestly sought, earnestly pondered, joyfully accepted as the greatest treasure of the human spirit, witnessed to by word and deed in the sight of men”. Whereas Christ was a martyr to Truth, Abraham Lincoln was a martyr to Justice.
John L, Scripps, of the Chicago Press & Tribune once asked Lincoln for material that could be used in a campaign biography. “Why, Scripps,” Lincoln retorted, “it is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of me or my early life. It can all be condensed into a single sentence, and that sentence you will find in Gray’s Elegy: ‘The short and simple annals of the poor.’” The fact that Lincoln could cite Thomas Gray’s “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard” accurately and spontaneously was a tribute to his surprising erudition. Lincoln’s formal education in his youth was less than a year. In his younger years, he lived in a one-room log cabin that had no windows and a dirt floor. He shared his life with the poor, whom Christ referred to as “blessed”
In Paul M. Angle & Earl Schenk Miers” massive work, The Living Lincoln, the authors state that “Few great Americans have approached Lincoln’s skill with words; none has surpassed it”. And yet, journalists could be blind to the unsurpassed excellence of his Gettysburg address. As the Chicago Times commented on Lincoln’s immortal speech, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States”. That a prophet can go unrecognized in his own time applies to Lincoln as well as to Christ.
Soon after the Great Civil war had ended, Lincoln gave a speech in which he gave his approval for Black men and veterans to have the right to vote. John Wilkes Booth was in the audience at that time. Enraged the idea that Lincoln supported Black citizenship, he vowed “That is the last speech he will every make”. Three days later Booth fulfilled his vow and assassinated America’s 16th president.
In his eulogy for Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, a man of color, stated that “Abraham Lincoln” was “without example emphatically the Black man’s president, the first to show any respect for their rights as men.”
It has been rightly said that it is easier to measure the height of a tree after it has fallen. Many have recognized, but only too late, the true stature of Christ and Lincoln while they were alive. Their positive influence after their demise is incalculable both for love of Truth as well as zeal for Justice. These two great values, it may be said, are exquisitely intertwined. Truth is the basis for Justice, while Justice is the fulfillment of a truth. The legacy of these two martyrs bequeaths a lesson for each one of us. Do we seek Truth and support Justice? If we do, we must understand that there is a price to pay. The road to glory is also a road to martyrdom. Are we willing to pay the price? Enemies to Truth and Justice abound. We read about their exploits in the daily news. Supporters of these two great values will experience strong and often violent opposition from the promoters of Convenience and Selfishness.
To stand for Truth and Justice, to follow the paths outlined by Christ and Lincoln, is what gives meaning to life. All else is vanity. What is exacted of such followers is commensurate with the importance of what they serve. We may not succeed, but it is the effort that counts. And love of one’s enemy is compelling evidence that Truth and Justice can be contagious. As Lincoln has remarked, in following Christ, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”