Jesus gave us many promises as he preached and taught during His ministry. The problem is we want to pay attention to the “happy” promises like “ask, and it shall be given to you.” We have a bit more trouble hearing this promise to us from Jesus: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you as well.” (John 15:20)
That doesn’t sound like fun at all, does it? And yet, the truth is proven over and over again in history; when we believers struggle to take seriously our faith and to live out the commands of our faith and the wisdom of our faith, we always stir up others to hate us for that very reason. All one has to do is see believers holding fast to timeless morality to see the insane hatred that very faithfulness generates among others who value their own desires more than wisdom.
Look at our lesson today in Acts 25:13-19:
IN THOSE DAYS, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix; and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews gave information about him, asking for sentence against him. I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up any one before the accused met the accusers face to face, and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. When therefore they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed; but they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.”
St. Paul is under arrest. Since he is a Roman citizen, the leaders in Jerusalem can’t treat him like they treated non-citizens. Paul has certain rights when it comes to the courts as a Roman citizen and he presses that advantage, not to save his own life, but to gain an audience with the Roman Emperor so that he can share the Gospel with him and the whole Roman capital.
Here we read of how the legal proceedings against Paul were progressing. Festus, the Roman representative, brings Paul’s case before the puppet king of Israel, Agrippa. And it is fascinating to see how this Roman leader perceives the whole matter. Festus can’t see what all the fuss is about. It seems to him that the whole matter centers around Paul’s claim that Jesus was alive, and the insistence by the religious leaders in Jerusalem that He was dead. OK, smart guys, if He’s dead, produce the Body!
And Festus gets this part exactly right. This really is a dispute about Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, dear one, most disputes in culture and morality and even philosophy all center in one way or another on Jesus Christ. Even the enemies of the Church spend most of their time trying to deal with this Man Jesus. Because no other Man in history has shaped and formed and molded human history like Jesus Christ.
So it makes perfect sense when society wants to indulge their self-destructive ways by insisting that people have the “right” to destroy themselves, they have a “right” to destroy life, even their own children’s lives through abortion or even the modern fad of mass hysteria over gender identities and such, they have a “right” to engage in all kinds of self-destructive lifestyles that are strangers to peace and sobriety, all the while claiming that all this foolishness is wisdom and “freedom.” Of course, the timeless wisdom of the Faith is going to enrage them and claims of “bigot” or “homophobe” or “anti-woman” or any other manner of slander meant to either silence these timeless words of wisdom or, better yet, destroy the voices of those who preach this wisdom.
And yet, the timeless wisdom is never overcome. The only decision we believers need to make is are we willing to embrace the hatred of the world so that we can value the love of God more than our own comfort?
Today, the world, gripped by darkness” is always going to hate the Light. But we have been blessed with God’s Holy Spirit to give us words and courage as we live every day as Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. Dear Lord, I know I am not greater than you! And I know that if the world hated You, it will also hate me! But Lord, I don’t want to be hated. I want to be loved and appreciated. And I confess that sometimes that desire makes me unwilling to tell the truth when it isn’t popular. But, if I truly love those around me, then speaking the truth in love to a world that is hurting itself is necessary, even when it means I will be hated. Lord, help me so love You and those around me that truly serving others means more to me than being liked by others. Amen.
I’m curious, Father, does persecution always come in the form of government abuse?
I ask because many Christians have experienced life without such trials so that whole and multiple generations live in relative peace in conducting their faith. Were these then not truly followers of Christ or do we need to expand our understanding what Christ meant?