Persecution

Matthew 10: 16-23
Gen 46:1-7, 28-30 / Psa 37

You will be given at that moment what you are to say; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
(Matthew 10:19-20)

It’s for His glory and His praise
That we proclaim the Word of God;
We’re driven by the Spirit’s grace,
And strengthened by His staff and rod.

Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves. But beware of men; for they will hand you over to courts, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.” (Matthew 10: 16-23)

Reflection

Jesus never watered down His predictions on what His followers could expect in the mission to spread the Gospel. He was totally candid with them that their journey would not be a walk in the park. The apostles knew the odds that sheep were up against “in the midst of wolves”. Their only chance of survival was to “be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves”, an oxymoron that only confused them all the more. For how can one be shrewd as a snake and gentle as a dove at the same time? Only after Jesus had ascended into heaven and they had received power from the Holy Spirit that they understood the meaning of that phrase. With the gifts they received on Pentecost, such as wisdom and discernment, they would be shrewd enough to recognize the forces of darkness and not be taken in by their lures and snares. But at the same time they would be gentle and forgiving of their enemies, as their Lord was, for conversion to take place.

The prophecies of Jesus regarding the persecutions and martyrdom of the early Christians were fulfilled decades later, especially during Emperor Nero’s reign of terror. Also fulfilled much earlier were their boldness in proclaiming the Gospel “before governors and kings,” starting with Peter, whose Pentecostal oratory led to the conversion of three thousand to be followers of Christ (Acts 2:37-41). Filled with the Holy Spirit, his speech also amazed all the leaders in the Sanhedrin, who knew him to be a mere uneducated fisherman (Acts 4:13). He was followed by the first Christian martyr, Stephen, whose martyrdom marked the beginning of the persecution of the early Church by the Jews, (Acts 8:51-52), headed by Saul, who would in turn become its greatest spokesman, and the most persecuted saint after his conversion in Damascus.

Following Jesus Christ entails great sacrifices, the reason why the worldly and unenlightened hate Christianity so much. For them this faith that we profess is so vague and abstract that it cannot be real. If we point to its historical validity in the Bible, it is just so much antiquity for the “now” and “instant” generation who scoff at its irrelevance. The advice of St. Peter however can’t be more relevant: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace Who called you to His eternal glory through Christ will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you after you have suffered a little” (2 Peter 5:8-10).

Lord, strengthen our will as we fight the good fight of faith for Your kingdom. Amen.

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