Hi everyone. Rob here.
Yesterday I saw the movie Silence. It is set in a time of intense persecution against Christians in 17th century Japan. As we know Christians are still persecuted against today. In fact, all over the world religions and movements that threaten the preserved order are persecuted against. Jesus was killed because he was seen as a threat to the powers of the day. This persecution happens despite the evidence that shows Christians to be hardworking, productive and peaceable contributors to society. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12:
…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Despite appearances Paul’s instructions are highly subversive. 1st century life in the Greco-Roman world was built around status. You were either preserving your high status or trying to get more status. Paul is telling the Thessalonians to get out of the status game altogether. That upsets the systems of patronage, favours, deals and more that the economy thrived on. The pagan temples were also places of business and by shunning those the Christians were shunning the system.
Jesus was even more subversive. A system of honour and shame kept everyone in their place but Jesus constantly upended it. People needed to trust God, not the authorities, their teachers or their patrons. They were to regard the kingdom of God as more important than the Roman Empire. They were to see the widow, the lame, the prostitute and the leper as of equal worth to priests, rulers and kings. They were to reclaim their humanity by loving each other, even their enemies. Jesus even showed that the empire’s most humiliating act, killing someone on a cross, held no real power.
Faith in Christ is a radical act of speaking truth to power. It proclaims that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. It says that our humanity is validated by God’s Son who came in the flesh and no one can take it from us. It means we refuse to buy into any labelling of anyone as less-than-human. We let go of status, reputation and self-importance because we are children of God lavished in love and nothing on this earth can come close to matching that. It means we love and keep on loving just as the Father keeps on loving his children, even when they smell of pigs, even when they turn their back on him. It means we reject the premise that the world is changed by gaining power, but always remember that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It will grow, it will shelter and save but its means is love and not wealth, power or oppression.
In other words, those who follow Jesus will always be targets for persecution because Jesus is always a threat to power. He is Lord and King after all. More than that though, the cross stands against the means of power and acts as a witness against oppression, exposing its dehumanizing acts of evil.
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:15)
As people of the cross may we stand against evil, yet always stand in Christ’s love. May acts of hatred never stop us from loving others in Christ’s name. And may we always remember the power of the mustard seed.
Grace and peace everyone.