29 November 2006

Sign up and die!

Last Week OT (W): Revelation 15.1-4 and Luke 21.12-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory

I’m afraid that Jesus would not last long in the advertising business. Look at his recruitment strategy in Luke: Join me and all those who oppose me will round you up, beat you, spit on you, put you on trial for treason and blasphemy, and then put you to death. Oh, and by the way, some of those who do these things will be your mom and dad and your little sister and the guy next door with the yappy dog. Can you imagine this recruitment campaign bringing in the crowds in 21st century America?

It is not immediately obvious to me why those who choose to follow Christ will be persecuted. What is specific or special about following Christ that enrages those who would persecute us? Jesus tells the disciples that they will be persecuted “because of my name.” Christ’s teaching on the fulfillment of the Law in Love seems to shock, but does it cause persecution? His willingness to violate pharisaical interpretations of the Sabbath rules for the sake of a lesson in mercy draws establishment ire but not systematic violence. He speaks to unclean enemies of the state and women! but it is not immediately evident that he is tried, convicted, and executed for this. Perhaps all together these transgressive acts against law and tradition add up to a criminal nature worthy of righteous anger. But notice: Jesus lists none of these as the reason for institutional and familial violence against his brothers and sisters on the Way.

Because of his name we will be persecuted. Have been persecuted. Are being persecuted. Christ name is who he is most fundamentally, most basically. His name draws out and highlights the most intimate relationship possible, the most intensely personal—person to person—joy possible, the most loving parent-child bond. His name is Anointed One, Messiah and his name is a brand, a sign, a sacrament, a rule, and a throne.

Christ is the friendship that lays the foundation of all other human bonds. Before husband-wife or brother-sister or mother-child there is Father-Son-Holy Spirit. Before state-citizen, before king-subject, before teacher-student there is Father-Son-Holy Spirit. And this is why we have been, are being, and will be persecuted: his name is the name above all other names and by proclaiming his name to be our own, we put him first and last and lay claim to an inheritance that not only shapes reality—social and otherwise—but also gives that reality a purpose, a point. His name and our claim to it testify to the kingship of Christ. And those usurped by his ascendancy in our lives have not been, are not now, and will never be happy about being demoted. Beware: you will be hated because of his name.

We have this: a promise of endurance in his name, a promise of perseverance—to hang on even in the face of the worst trials is testimony, faithful witness, and a guarantee of our eternal lives. We need not worry about a defense. He is there already. We need not worry about our stunted wisdom. He is there already. He has been there from the beginning and will be there in the end.

Listen again to the choir singing before the heavenly throne: “You alone are holy, Lord. All nations will come and worship before you…” All nations. Even those that, for now, curse his name. Baptize in his name, pray in his name, minister in his name and in so doing, ensure that his name is first and last in everything we do. If we are not his by his name, whose are we and by what name will be known—forever?

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