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.’
In the 1992 general election campaign, John Major unveiled a new weapon which he unleashed in support of his intention to regain the premiership of the United Kingdom. John Major travelled the length and breadth of the country with his ‘soapbox’. He and his team arrived in town squares and other public spaces where he mounted his soapbox and delivered his message to the people. History tells us that John Major’s soapbox was effective. His down-to-earth, get-amongst-the-people approach led him to victory in the 1992 general election.
Of course, there was nothing particularly new or innovative about John Major’s strategy. The use of the ‘soapbox’ to elevate a speaker above his or her audience in order that they might deliver their impassioned ideologies to large crowds has existed for centuries, although it was only in the 19th century that the ‘soapbox’ became synonymous with this practice. In fact, this public proclamation of matters of personal faith is demonstrated throughout scripture … both the Old and New Testaments are filled with people publicly proclaiming their faith in God.
As we journey through the 21st century we are called to do exactly the same; we are called to get on our soapboxes, real or imaginary, and tell the world of the Good News that is Jesus Christ. But, sadly, we don’t! Or, perhaps I should say that the majority of those who call themselves Christian do not!
In today’s reading Jesus warns us that the Christian path is not an easy one to follow. Jesus warns of persecution, interrogation and, possibly, worse. However, Jesus goes on to say: make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance as you are given this opportunity to testify.
When we seek judgement in a dispute we sometimes employ lawyers. Those lawyers prepare their cases meticulously. The more complex the issue, the longer they spend in preparing the strongest possible arguments on our behalf. But, in today’s reading, Jesus says that this is not how we should proceed in matters of faith. Instead, Jesus urges us to trust God to provide us with the words we will need when others seek to deride and persecute us.
Jesus’ words also guide us away from offering no evidence. Rather than offering a bland and non-committal No Comment, Jesus tells us to seize the moment and share the Gospel, even with those who would condemn us.
There are moments when all Christians experience the ridicule and the wrath of others … ridicule and wrath that is based solely on matters of faith. Let us pray that we might not answer the ridicule and the wrath with carefully prepared, legalistic answers, but with the direct and inspired word of God, the script for which will come from the Holy Spirit alone.