Fr Paul reads from the Gospel of John (15: 18-21) in which Jesus says to his disciples, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you”.
Fr Paul says this Gospel gives us one of the few historical allusions in the discourse: ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you, too.’ How much did Jesus know of what was going to happen? He knew that ‘the game was up’, that he had been betrayed and that his opponents were going to come for him. But he had already been living under permanent death-threat.
In the Gospel of John, the cleansing of the Temple comes right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and after that, each time he goes up to Jerusalem the Temple authorities are out to get him. But his Hour had not yet come, the Hour about which he had spoken from Cana onwards, which must have been permanently on his mind. John the Baptist had already paid the price of his proclamation; he had been taken into custody by Herod Antipas as a precautionary measure against a rebellion, and then beheaded at the behest of Herod’s wife.
From the very beginning of Christianity, the followers of Christ lived under threat, as the Acts of the Apostles makes clear. The martyrdom of Stephen and the floggings of Paul show the dangers from the Jews. The refusal of Christians to proclaim that ‘Caesar is Lord’, their obstinacy at proclaiming, ‘Christ is Lord’ soon brought whippings to Paul and martyrdom to the Apostles.
In many countries the hatred of Christians, is rife to the point of death or flight. In more sophisticated lands there is the muted derision for those soft enough in the head to believe the story of Christianity, building on a deserved contempt for the real failures of Christians to live out our ideals. Yes, ‘they will persecute you too.’
In closing, Fr Paul notes today’s Gospel Lesson – Christians have been persecuted since the time of Christ and are still persecuted to this day. But we cannot allow that persecution to diminish our faith.