As we continue to make our way through Ordinary Time, the Church draws from the Bible and composes a lesson and a challenge each week. As we go through this liturgical year, every week stands as a type of examination of conscience, as one aspect of our discipleship is held up to us and a renewed invitation is given to us to follow the Lord Jesus more faithfully and zealously.
With this understanding, we can look at the Bible readings from Mass today. The Church gives us the prophet Jeremiah’s account of his prophetic call, which included a call to suffer and accept persecution. The Gospel fulfills and affirms this message, as we hear from Luke’s gospel about the Lord Jesus’s rejection at Nazareth, his own hometown.
These Bible passages are elaborated by the “love chapter” from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. The passage recounts what love is, and gives us the spiritual blueprint of how we should live as Christians and, within the context of today’s other Bible readings, how the Gospel is to be shared.
While many lessons could be drawn from the Bible readings of today’s Mass, there is one that certainly is head above the rest. The Church is reminding us of the persecution that sometimes comes with speaking truth and spreading the Gospel.
Mother Church, through the selected readings from the Bible, is teaching us that, as Christians, we must be ready for persecution, while simultaneously reminding us that we shouldn’t be trying to be persecuted. Our effort is one of love, which is patient, kind, and not rude. If persecution comes, despite our best efforts to be gracious, then we must be willing to accept it.
And so, while not enjoyable or pursued for its own sake, suffering and persecution are a part of the way of the Lord Jesus. It’s worth stressing that in Western societies, the persecution is not always through physical sufferings, as so many believers endure in other parts of the world. Sometimes our suffering is social, occupational, economic, or recreational. While not life threatening, such sufferings are real, they isolate us, and put pressure on us to compromise.
Regardless of the means of persecution, the Christian – following the prophetic witness and seeing the life of the Lord Jesus – must be ready to suffer for the sake of righteousness.
The willingness to suffer or accept persecution is not normal to our fallen nature. We want to be accepted, included, highly thought of, and considered a friend by those around us. The beauty and glory of truth, however, is superior to all such desires. Truth calls us to protect the weak, to defend marriage and parenthood, to guard the vulnerable and forgotten, to preserve human dignity from mockery or dismissiveness, to promote the worker and family life, and to seek the common good of all.
The Christian faith was never meant to be only for itself. Believers are called to go out and to be the salt, light, and leaven of a fallen world. We are always to be Good Samaritans to our neighbors, speaking and doing good. As virtuous things are forgotten, the Christian is to bring them back. As noble things are discarded, the Christian is to be a witness to them. As truth is redefined or turned into political Play-Doh, the Christian offers clarity and shows the fullness of truth by a life lived in love.
None of the above tasks are easy. Christians struggle with their own fallenness while laboring to continue the way of the Lord Jesus. At times, some believers compromise, or say the right things in the wrong way. At other times, they do the wrong things thinking a “greater good” justifies them. And the list goes on. Sometimes, Christians provoke persecution, when it could be avoided. At other times, Christians can be their own worse persecutors.
And yet, there is a way of love that is higher and superior to all our faults. It is worthy and beautiful in spite of poor examples and confusing duplicity. And Christians, sometimes in spite of themselves, are entrusted with this way and are called to continue it until the Lord returns again.
When the way of the Lord Jesus is followed, even in the best of ways, there will be still be persecution. When that happens, believers must be ready. Following Jeremiah and the other prophets, and seeking to imitate the Lord Jesus, they are to remain faithful and be bold, yet gentle witnesses to truth and love.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby