You will be hated on my account – Friday, 14th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 10:16-23

St Matthew wrote this Gospel during a period of great hostility between the Jews and the Christians. The Christians had not yet formed a clear identity as a body of people, as we have today. At best, the early Christians were a sect of Judaism that believed that the Messiah was Jesus who had died and had risen. The early Christians still prayed at the synagogues, their prayers were still the prayers that their Jewish brothers and sisters recited, their habits and cultural mannerism were still predominantly Jewish.

But all that changed with the council of Jamnia or Jabneh. After the fall of Jerusalem, (A.D.70) the “Council of Jabneh” was convened. It consisted of a group of Jewish scholars who were granted permission by Rome around the year 90 to meet in Palestine near the Mediterranean Sea in Jabneh (or Jamnia). Here they established a non-authoritative, “reconstituted” Sanhedrin. Among the things they discussed was the status of several questionable writings in the Jewish Bible. They also rejected the Christian writings and made a new translation of the Greek Septuagint.

While scholars’ debate on what happened next, many have accepted that the council of Jabneh decided to expel those who did not adhere to their value system. Such a procedure is described in the Birkat ha-Minim, a ‘Blessing on the heretics’ (actually a curse) and among those cursed were the Jewish apostates whom we would call ‘the early Christians’. This sparked tension between Judaism and Christianity and built up even more in the medieval ages.

When St Matthew was writing the mission discourse, this tension was a lived experience. Today, every Christians would read this text in their own context that they live in. In India, these persecutions are real and fraught with dire threats and bodily harm. It is not uncommon to have right wing groups, attack with impunity, Christian evangelist and Christian institutions; taking the law into their own hands while the law itself looks the other way. So often, those who are charged with enforcing the law, are complicit in harbouring the attackers while filing false charges against Christian evangelists who are just tending to their own flock and institutions.

Social media is abuzz with videos recorded by right wing groups insulting St Teresa, calling for a Hindu nation and blatantly suggesting violence against Christians and other minorities. The very media channels that would scream blue murder at the top of their lungs on prime-time TV are silent to such hate. Yet, should anyone with a surname that sounds remotely from a minority faith dare to even critique the functioning of government, the same media channels would call you anti-national and within hours you would be in some prison on trumped up charges.

Jesus does not hide the danger that we are to face if we are his disciples. He does not sugar coat the path ahead. “Beware”, he says, “of them.” That “them,” has become for us in India, any one from the highest offices in the political class to one who thinks that they are doing a holy task for their faith by attacking a Christian.

The description of the persecution that is found in this text, seems like it is happening in real time, here in India. “You will be dragged before governors and kings before me,” said Jesus. While fear will be natural in such a circumstance, the defence of the righteous is the work of the Holy Spirit. The words of our defence will be given, for God will speak through us. But that does not mean that the doors of the prison will be opened for us like it did for St Peter; our lives could end up like St Stephen, when he was stoned to death.

Perhaps the saddest pain that comes from such persecution is not the physical attacks but the pain that comes from those with whom we once lived and loved; our neighbours, colleagues or students in our institutions. The words of Jesus ring true two thousand years later “brother against brother, father against child, children against parents.” It has not been uncommon for us today in India, to hear and perhaps experience, first hand, our very “brothers and sisters” with whom we took oaths in school, now turn against the very priests and nuns at whose hand they were educated. The shrill voices on social media accusing Christians as having a single agenda of conversion is fanned with impunity. Social Media giants are never asked to take these posts and videos down nor are these pages and sites every banned by government. Tragically, the lies have been told again and again giving rise to fear and falsehood and the victimisation of religious minorities.

Today, we in India are hated as citizens because we hold Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. Unfortunately, even now, some members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church refuse to admit to the reality of this persecution that is faced on a daily basis. They ask us to wait patiently till all facts are gathered; this, eighty days into the horrific terrorisation and the deliberate targeting of Christians in Manipur.

The superscription of the text of today’s Gospel in the RSV Bible reads, “the coming persecution.” For us in India, it is not a matter of coming persecution but a matter of ongoing persecution.

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