Reading: Luke 21.12-19
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.’
Do you remember the school bully? The person who engendered fear in the hearts of those he or she perceived to be weaker than themselves. Perhaps you were the victim of the school bully or, perhaps, you were the school bully yourself. Do you remember the times in your life when you would say or do anything to be accepted by the fashionable crowd, the ones who seemed to carry a charisma and popularity so easily? Do you recall the moment when you finally saw those ‘influential’ people for what they really were? The moment when the scales fell from your eyes and you gained the sense of proportion that led you down the path of wisdom and integrity?
Today Jesus is continuing his warnings of the signs and persecutions that await those who profess a faith in him. Yesterday, Jesus spoke of those who would lead others astray. He was warning us not to blindly follow those whose charm might be described as magnetic, but whose integrity and faith would definitely be described as superficial or even non-existent. Today, Jesus is warning his followers, both present and future, of the persecution that will come from those who perceive them to be weak and ineffectual.
As in other passages from the gospel narrative, Jesus is not painting an attractive picture of discipleship. He speaks of his followers being arrested and persecuted, of imprisonment and betrayal. In fact, Jesus is portraying discipleship in a way that reminds us of the totalitarian state invented by George Orwell in his novel 1984, a state in which everyone is prepared to betray and persecute each other if it means a little more time of security and influence. How could anyone wish to be a follower of Jesus when confronted with the prospect of such a dire future?
If we read this short passage through to its conclusion, we come across a justification for our faith and our discipleship. Jesus promises that, for those of faith, not a hair of your head will perish. Yes, the bullies and the politically astute may persecute you to the end of your earthly days but, Jesus says: by your endurance you will gain your souls. As Jesus’ earthly life draws to its end, Jesus is not pulling his punches. He is warning us that we may well be called to follow him, even to the bitterest of ends. But, he is also promising that, for those who remain steadfast in their faith, there will be salvation and there will be a ‘coming home’ into God’s nearer presence.
It may not sound very attractive, it may sound intolerably daunting, but we are all called to remain steadfast and faithful and, if we do, there is the joy of eternal life awaiting us. So, let us stand up to the bullies and let us see the insincerity and shallowness of the fashionable and let us journey on as faithful disciples of Jesus.