(A poetic reflection on Martin of Tours)
“Here he comes again,” said the paymaster.
“You watch…he’s going to turn down his pay again.”
And sure enough, Martin did, and he used the line
he had been using for several months:
“I can’t take it. I’m a soldier for Christ now.
I’ve told you before,
ever since I gave that poor man half my cloak
and was baptized
and had that dream with Jesus wearing the cloak half
that i gave that man,
I just can’t accept my soldier’s pay anymore.”
“Martin…just take it,” sputtered the paymaster.
“Give it away to those crazy Christians
you’ve been hanging with,
If it makes you feel any better.
You used to give it to the poor,
and really, that’s ok.
It’s your money,
and you can do with it as you like.
Look…I’ve been holding off having you put on charges.
Someone’s going to think this is cowardice
and a way you’re trying to get out of your duty.”
But Martin simply smiled…and refused again.
“What do you mean, you want to resign?” said his prefect.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. You say your commanding officer
is that Jesus guy that we crucified 300some years ago,
And you can no longer keep your oath of allegiance to Rome.
It’s cowardice, you know,
since we are going to be fighting
those unruly barbarians in the provinces soon.
There’s no way I’m releasing you early
with that hanging over my head.”
“Do you understand what will happen, Martin?
You’ll be court-martialed
and no one cares about that dream of yours.
It’s just made up hogwash,
and no one will believe it,
and you’ll be executed
and branded a coward forever.
Don’t you care about your own reputation?
Not only will you tarnish your own name,
you’ll tarnish your father’s name,
a respected officer in this army.”
Martin quietly repeated what he’d said many times before.
“I am a soldier of Christ now. I cannot fight.”
But then he added,
“Sir, there’s just one thing.
I am not a coward.
I’ll prove it to you.
I’ll stay for the battle, unarmed,
and In the name of the Lord Jesus,
and protected not by a helmet and buckler,
but by the sign of the cross,
I will thrust myself into the thickest squadrons of the enemy without fear.”
His commanding officer sat there,
his chin in his hand, and finally mumbled,
“Well…I don’t have to think about this, right this minute.
I have bigger things to deal with right now. Dismissed.”
The paymaster and the commanding officer
both remember the day the messenger showed up.
you could have heard a pin drop
in the command post tent
when the messenger said
his commander was wanting to negotiate a peace
on behalf of the Gauls.
There was no reason to keep Martin any longer,
and so, he was discharged from service.
And I have to wonder,
when both the paymaster and the commanding officer
watched Martin ride off into the sunset
if they didn’t catch a glimpse
of a fellow wearing half a cloak
riding alongside him.
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as Interim Priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hannibal, MO.
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