Reading: John 15.17-27
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”
‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.’
One of the prayers that is regularly offered by the Church is a prayer for those who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. This prayer is usually offered when we are thinking of those who live under the threat of imprisonment, torture or death because of their faith. However, we do not need to be living in such harsh conditions to feel a sense of religious persecution.
In today’s reading Jesus is warning his followers that his path is far from being an easy one. Many will not understand his new way of living and will react violently against it. Of course, shameful as it is, Christians down the centuries have behaved just as violently against people of different faiths, as well as against those who have practised their Christian faith in a different way. It is as though human beings are hard-wired with a need to reject any religious practice or opinion that differs from their own. This also applies to those of no faith.
Thankfully, we live in a society where people enjoy freedom of speech and thought. We can say what we think without fear of imprisonment or persecution. Or can we? Is that just a myth?
In recent times the law has had to be changed. Because of the violent radicalisation of some people, ostensibly in the name of religion, restrictions have had to be imposed on thoughts and actions from fear of terrorist violence.
Also in recent times, there has been an increasing voluble anti-religious voice. People, including those who have ready access to the media, have, in increasingly hostile terms, begun to attack anyone and everyone who expresses a religious faith.
Jesus spoke of this situation two thousand years ago, and there was nothing vague about what he said. Just as religious and political powers hated him, so he warned that those who profess a faith in him will come to experience the same hatred.
People do not understand the Christian faith because they cannot control it, and what they cannot control terrifies them, and what terrifies can so often create a violent backlash.
But … Jesus has a simple method by which we might find protection and security. That method never resorts to either verbal or physical violence, and it never seeks revenge. Jesus’ method is to simply love and serve in his name. Not an easy method, but remarkably effective and powerful if you can master it. Go on, give it a go!