The Lord says this:
Israel, come back to the Lord your God;
your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.
Provide yourself with words
and come back to the Lord.
Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away
so that we may have happiness again
and offer you our words of praise.
Assyria cannot save us,
we will not ride horses any more,
or say, “Our God!” to what our own hands have made,
for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.’
– I will heal their disloyalty,
I will love them with all my heart,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will fall like dew on Israel.
He shall bloom like the lily,
and thrust out roots like the poplar,
his shoots will spread far;
he will have the beauty of the olive
and the fragrance of Lebanon.
They will come back to live in my shade;
they will grow corn that flourishes,
they will cultivate vines
as renowned as the wine of Helbon.
What has Ephraim to do with idols any more
when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him?
I am like a cypress ever green,
all your fruitfulness comes from me.
Let the wise man understand these words.
Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning.
For the ways of the Lord are straight,
and virtuous men walk in them,
but sinners stumble.
Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.
‘Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you. ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved. If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next; and if they persecute you in that, take refuge in another. I tell you solemnly, you will not have gone the round of the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.’
Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake.
The Gospel reading for today talks about religious persecution, where the believers in Christ were put on trial for spreading the Good News. Religious persecution is still as rife as it was centuries ago. We should consider ourselves blessed not to be caught up in the tensions and wars that continue to rage in other countries. In fact, so global is this issue that those of us living in countries where there is peace and stability may feel so far removed from this issue that it affects us with such little inconvenience. It is not to say that we are insensitive to the situation. It’s just that we may not feel quite as affected because we are not directly caught in the midst of it, hence we continue to go about our daily lives.
However, even in our so-called peaceful world, we may still be faced with persecution of a different sort without knowing it. To stand on the side of truth and what is of God, and have people reject you for it, that is persecution too. We are all so driven by the ‘herd mentality’ (perhaps sub-consciously) that sometimes we reject the direction of our moral compass and choose instead the opposite. A case in point — how many of us would stand and watch if someone was being bullied or attacked, just because we think we should ‘mind our own business’ and not get involved? Some of us are probably too busy trying to ‘capture the moment’ of an incident so that we can post it on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. Have we not read of so many incidences of drugged girls getting gang-raped at parties, with the whole thing being filmed and no one bothering to intervene? The other party-goers just look on, and one wonders if at any one point whether they thought, “hang on, this is not right”. The point that I am trying to make is this – in our own daily lives, we may be faced with situations that will force us to choose between what is right in the eyes of God over what is wrong. I believe that we are all born with good moral fiber in us. As we grow older though, these notions are influenced by what we experience around us, and our moral compass may get a bit clouded. Can we say that we are brave enough to take the position of what is right, or are we afraid? God promises us that we need not be afraid for He will teach us what we have to say if we are called to justify our actions.
Twenty years ago, a young black girl was amongst a crowd demonstrating against a Ku Klux Klan rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when someone suddenly announced on the megaphone that there was a KKK supporter in their midst. The anti-KKK demonstrators turned around and identified a white man garbed and tattooed with logos and symbols suggesting supremacist tendencies. He was pursued down the street and beaten. This young black girl stepped in and threw herself over this man and shielded him from the blows. That was 20 years ago. She is now in her 30s and when she was asked why she did it, she responded that mob mentality had taken over, and people were doing things that they would not normally do. It wasn’t right, “violence is violence – nobody deserves to be hurt,” she said. Would it matter that if the tables were turned it would be unlikely that this guy would have done the same for her? What would we do if we were in her position? Would we be one of the herd? Or would we be brave enough to step forward and stand up for what is right by God?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, forgive us for the times when we chose to be spectators instead of defenders of what was just and right. We pray for the courage to do what’s right with all our might.
Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for letting me be in a place where religious freedom is a given right, and not something where I could be persecuted for. We pray for those who live amongst conflict and in fear because of what they believe in, and we pray for peace to prevail.