Jesus said to the twelve: ‘Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.’
Yesterday we focused on the way in which the Nativity of Christ challenges us to go out glorifying and praising God. Today, when the Church remembers and gives thanks for Stephen, the first Christian martyr, the mood changes. In today’s reading we hear Jesus painting a bleak picture for the twelve disciples, those who immediately responded when Jesus said: Follow me! Jesus speaks of the persecutions and punishments that many will have to endure because of their faith in the one who began his earthly life in a manger, in a stable, in the hilltop town of Bethlehem. But, despite the miserable future Jesus seems to be outlining for his disciples, his message in today’s reading is not without hope.
Jesus says: Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you …
So often, and especially when we sense any degree of injustice, we grasp at words and construct arguments with which to defend ourselves. Sometimes our arguments are effective and we experience feelings of victory and vindication. On other occasions we flounder and find ourselves crushed by the quicker thinking and greater fluency of our opponents. When it comes to defending our faith we often find it harder to muster our arguments, to put forwards a convincing account of the beliefs we hold so dear. The reason we struggle in such matters is rooted in our failure to trust in Jesus’ words; we forget his promise that: what you are to say will be given to you.
We live in a culture that celebrates self-sufficiency. We are proud of our ability to ‘take care of ourselves’. But, that self-sufficiency is rooted in a reliance on human, and not divine, wisdom, the sort of wisdom that will always let us down. Today Jesus is reminding us that, no matter how difficult and dangerous things may become, we just have to let go and trust in him. Jesus’ promise does not necessarily mean that we will avoid the persecutions and the punishments, the injustices and the oppression, but there are other words of hope in today’s reading: the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Throughout the gospels there runs a constant message of hope … the hope that true faith will be rewarded with eternal life in the nearer presence of God. We are never promised an easy journey through this life, but we are promised the greatest of rewards if we stand firm in our faith. Today we are urged to pray that we might trust in Jesus’ promise that he will always be with us, no matter what this world may throw at us. Today we are urged to pray that we might endure so that at the end we will be saved.