Today’s Gospel may make us think twice about being disciples of Jesus! He has called the Twelve and begun to give them instructions about their mission in the world, and he is very straightforward about what it will look like. It is not all sunshine and roses.
On the contrary, he sending them “like sheep in the midst of wolves” where they will be handed over to the courts and scourged because they will be “hated by all.” Hm. We might anticipate that they would run from a task with this kind of job description. Why don’t they?
They remain with Jesus for the same reason WE remain with Jesus: because Jesus really is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the image of the invisible God, the One who loves us to the end, giving himself over to death, even death on a cross, so that we can be with him for all eternity in the House of the Father!
Jesus is not trying to scare them away with this reality check. Rather, he is helping to free them of their mistaken notion that they will reign on thrones in this world, and giving them instructions for how they should respond to the persecution that will come: they must be “shrewd as serpents,” not oblivious to what is happening against them, but also “simple as doves” in their singlemindedness about their mission; they must not worry about how they are to speak, but focus on remaining open to the Holy Spirit, Who will speak through them.
Why must they suffer these things? “As a witness before them.” Persecution – even the little persecutions we undergo in everyday life – are always an opportunity to witness to the truth, in love. When we respond with love, when we remain steadfast in the truth, when we do not let the opinions of others keep us from doing what is right, we are witnessing to the truth that Jesus Christ really is Lord of our hearts. When this is difficult (and let’s face it: even something as simple as stating the truth about the sanctity of human life or making the Sign of the Cross in a restaurant can be difficult, and can be looked down upon even by fellow Catholics!), we can either be conquered by our need for human approval, or we can conquer the subtleties of the opposition by doing the right thing. Will we be conquered or will we conquer?
Jesus gives his disciples the way to conquer: be aware, but do not worry; trust in the Spirit to guide our words and actions; above all, persevere. He does not say those who make great speeches will be saved, or those whose lives are marked with dramatic witness, or those who glow in the dark because of their holiness! He says, simply: “Whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
We must steadfastly persevere in doing what is right and growing in relationship with Jesus, so that we can do what we are called to do. So let us all pray for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially fortitude, and receive the fruit of faithfulness, no matter what kind of opposition we face today.
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including Deacon Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.