This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
SECTARIAN BOMBING IRAQ KILLS SUNNIS DURING EID
New English Translation (NET)
Persecution of Disciples
16 “I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of people, because they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 And you will be brought before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them and the Gentiles. 19 Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time. 20 For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death.22 And you will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 Whenever they persecute you in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Jesus spares no effort to make discipleship unattractive. The conditions envisaged in this passage seem more like those of Matthew’s time (80-90 CE) than those of Israel in Jesus’ time. Doubtless Matthew or his immediate source is making Jesus’ words relevant for a new generation of disciples, who lived after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70CE when the orthodox synagogues were expelling Jewish believers in Jesus Messiah. Many Jewish families were split by this separation.
In contemporary Scotland Christian families have in the main decided that it doesn’t matter if their children are believers; there are more important matters like successful careers to worry about. It may be that our ease with our dear ones who reject our faith is not wholly to our credit. In Matthew’s society such splits were very deep and painful.
Jesus’ instruction reminds disciples that they should not be daft; they should retain their harmlessness but use their cunning to survive persecution. Jesus does not advocate needless heroics. Disciples shouldn’t be scared to run away. On the other hand if taken to court, they are not to use smart advocates but to speak their own words which will be inspired by God. There are still many places where Christian faith is a cause of persecution by families, neighbours or the state, in some cases, by all three. I was writing last week about the appalling persecution of Christian people in Pakistan, an ally of the USA and UK whose Government is complicit in the denial of civil right to Christian families. Wherever there is persecution Jesus words will be immediately relevant.
We should remember however, that the persecution of Christians by both Jews and Romans was not for their religious beliefs; it was because of the religious beliefs of their persecutors, an absolute commitment to Jewish Torah, or to the Roman Emperor as part of a pantheon of Gods, that Christians were considered almost as atheists who rejected Torah and the Imperial Cult in favour of communities of justice and peace that showed compassion in the name of a crucified Galilean. This way of life seemed irreligious to pious Jews and Romans. The persecution in Pakistan today is similar; it is carried out by people whose religion with its dogma and practices has taken the place of love of God and neighbour. While honouring and supporting persecuted brothers and sisters, the Christian Church must ensure it remains the faith of Jesus and not a religion.