Jesus said to his Apostles: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves;
so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of men,
for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.
The recommended Collect for today urges us to pray for persecuted Christians. The Lord has sent them into troubled nations where they are often the victims of their neighbors' anxieties and insecurities. Frightened people want to avenge their fears on someone and when the enemy is not apparent or close at hand, they persecute someone one closer.
We can be especially worried about Christians in Syria and other Islamic nations. In many cases their Christian churches predate the Muslim religion. They are the original churches of Egypt and Asia. Under the secular regimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Bashar Hafez al-Assad in Syria Christians enjoyed some freedom of religion. That privilege, which we regard as a right and take for granted, is now threatened by their Muslim neighbors.
But persecution of religious minorities is not a Muslim thing. Catholics have persecuted Protestants; and Protestants, Catholics. The Spanish invaders of the southwestern states tormented native Americans until they joined the Catholic Church, while English settlers in New England demonized the indigenous peoples there. The wholesale slaughter of Bosnian Muslims -- described by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War. -- was carried about by Catholic Orthodox Serbs. Even when Jews were baptized their fate remained Jewish and their pariah status unchanged.
We should not suppose it cannot happen in the United States. Our memory is not so short that we don't remember the exclusion of Catholics from public office and the voting booth in some eastern states. Nor can we forget the more recent terrorism of white supremacists' burning and bombing African-Americans churches.
Persecution, I suspect, has little to do with faith or religion. It's about political and economic insecurity. People feel angry and they want to blame someone. Whoever is defenseless is fair game.
Jesus sent us into precisely those situations -- like sheep among wolves -- to demonstrate his patience. We know we have no abiding home in this world. We know that security is ephemeral at best. We know that prosperity and security are gifts bestowed by a providential God upon a nation who may or may not deserve it. His sun shines on the good and the bad; his rain falls on the just and the unjust. In the real world, right does not make might. In fact it often makes us more vulnerable.
|Brother Andrew Bramanti|
at ease among the friars