A reflection by Fr. Idara Otu, MSP, on Luke 21.12-19
Today’s gospel is a continuation of yesterday’s gospel text concerning Jesus’s prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, which occurred about 70 AD. With the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, the Jews lost a significant place of worship and an important symbol of their faith. As a result, many Jews were compelled to leave Jerusalem. The Christian community found themselves in unfamiliar social location. In today’s gospel, Luke intimates to the Christians the forms of persecution that would probably arise in witnessing their faith. Luke frames these persecutions in three categories. Luke’s categories are insightful and resonate with some of the contemporary challenges Christians face today both within the Church and society.
The first form of persecution is seen in the expression: they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons. This expression is indicative of the “modern inquisition” which some Christians may face within their denominations. For example, this occurs when one is removed from an academic position or ecclesial office because of a particular theological opinion or doctrinal interpretation.
The second form of persecution is evident in the phrase: you will be brought before kings and governors. This phrase signifies the “political constraints” that some Christians face when the take an apologetic position against international, national or local political authorities who often try to subvert Christian values. For example, Christians continually have to give an account of their faith before political authorities on issues regarding human life, human dignity, social and eco-justice.
The third form of persecution is discernible in the statement: you will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, by relatives and friends. This statement represents a “familial betrayal” which some Christians experience from close relations, which includes members of the same religious order or ecclesial community. Such betrayals are painful and may lead to physical death or the death of one’s spiritual life. An example is when a Christian is abandoned by follow Christians in times of faith crisis, personal difficulties, terminal illness or challenging socio-economic conditions.
Given these forms of persecutions – modern inquisition, political constraints and familial betrayal – Luke sees in each of them an occasion for Christians to witness to Christ. Hence, he brings a message of hope and encouragement assuring Christians not to give up their faith, for God is present even in times of trials. God’s abiding presence is made manifest through the gifts of wisdom, courage and perseverance, which one needs to live through crisis situations. This hope is rooted in the promise of Christ to remain with us even to the end of the world. This is the message of hope we are called to share with Christians who are suffering. Thus, amid the sense of despair arising from various forms of depressing global and local crisis, we are called as missionaries to witness and infuse hope in the hearts of the weary, as well as to remain a sign and agency of hope to all peoples.