During the ordinary time of the year, each day of the week is assigned a pericope from the Epistles and Gospel. All too often we miss these passages as we go about our Sunday to Sunday Christianity and when we hear the Sunday Gospel and Epistle we have no context fir it and it is disjointed. It would be like watching a miniseries and only catching the ending. Sure we know the ending but what got us to that point is just as important.
This past Wednesday, June 25th, was the 3rd Wednesday after Pentecost and the Gospel reading was taken from St. Matthew chapter 10 verses 16-22:
The Lord said to his disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” 1
This is a challenging passage but one that has such rich meaning for us as we face, what some call the persecution of the Church here in America. Let me just state right up front that we are not being persecuted, sure we are hated, but Jesus told us we would be. Our message is counter cultural and is designed to call people to be accountable for their actions, not something that plays well in 21st century America today. We tend to carry this notion of “personal freedom” to far in the context of our faith to the point where, some churches are very hard to recognize as Christian at all.
Jesus is pointing out to those who heard Him, and for us, that our mission is not going to be easy in fact it can cost us our lives, but He is also telling us that we must keep going. Several years ago, in an address to the clergy of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese, His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae stressed the importance of mission. When the church is not feeling pressure from outside sources, and that can be monetary or because of our beliefs, we tend to slip into comfortable religiosity that takes all too lightly our commitment to God and God’s purpose for us and for His Church.
I read an article not long ago, but for the life of me cannot find now, that outlined the various churches stand on same sex marriage and whether the church would bless or marry people of the same sex in the Church. The Orthodox Church was not even mentioned in the article, I say, because we do not make enough noise. I will also add that there is a fracture of opinion on this particular issue in the Orthodox Church here in America that has yet to be resolved. I also believe that some Orthodox spend far too much time worrying about what other people are doing and how they are living their lives when they should be focused on their own lives. However, I also believe this is not the be all and end all of issues but one illustration of the silence of Orthodoxy in America.
The other interesting part of this pericope is the insistence that there is no retaliation against those who persecute us and hate us for our message. In the Liturgy of St. Basil, and I wish is was in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, we pray for “those who love us and those who hates us.” We are to love those who do not love us back; this is what unconditional love is all about, loving without condition. Some of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, in my opinion again based on what I have read; do not love those who do not love us back. Is this difficult, yes it is, but it is not optional! Sometimes I feel that we are persecuting the people rather than loving them simply because they do not agree with us. I believe this is the arrogance of some Orthodox that we are right and the rest of the world is wrong, that brings many to this conclusion. Calling people heretics is not a statement of love.
But Jesus gives us hope and He will never abandon us, we might abandon Him, but He will NEVER abandon us. He tells us that, “Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
We can never give up on mission. We can never let our voice be silenced not matter what “they” do to us. As long as we have breath in our lungs we can proclaim the Gospel in truth and in love, especially that last part, love. They will hate us but we have to love them in return and Jesus will guide us and give us the words that we need to speak to their hearts but if we do not love them they will never hear us.
1. The English Gospel text used is based on the Revised Standard Version from “The Holy and Sacred Gospel” by Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA.