April 23, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 13:9-13.
“Watch out for yourselves. They will hand you over to the courts. You will be beaten in synagogues. You will be arraigned before governors and kings because of me, as a witness before them. But the gospel must first be preached to all nations. When they lead you away and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say. But say whatever will be given to you at that hour. For it will not be you who are speaking but the holy Spirit. Brother will hand over brother to death and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.”
These are not comforting words as I imagine myself in the place of the apostles. Mark was using more of the language of the apocalyptic writings as he described intrafamily betrayals — the terrible tribulations before the end time. Yet we see even today the hatred that religious division spawns even among family members. There’s nothing more hurtful than the betrayal of someone we love like a family member. Jesus was preparing them for the worst, steeling their fortitude. It wasn’t all bad news, though.
He told them that the one who perseveres, who stays the course, who doesn’t get discouraged and give up will be saved. He wasn’t just talking to his four apostles that day; he is speaking to us today as well. Life can be a very long journey, full of a great many challenges and losses. Jesus in encouraging us to keep heart, to keep our eyes fixed on him, to finish true to our faith. My in-laws who live with us are 93 and 95 years of age. Life from day to day can be a severe test for them. Yet they patiently wait out the end of a taxing day and hope for a better day tomorrow. Their faith seems to grow stronger, more resistant to hopelessness and despair.
Jesus tells us here that the Holy Spirit will be with us. Elsewhere he tells us that he will be with us until the end of our time. He stands beside us; he shares our pains and grief and fears with compassion; he wipes away our tears. He does that mainly through us, his disciples. Priest and spiritual author Henri Nouwen in Behold the Beauty of the Lord wrote, “Being Christian is not a solitary affair.” Jesus didn’t leave his apostles and followers alone; he gave them one another and he promised to remain with them even after his death through the Holy Spirit. Later, Nouwen wrote in Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, “There is much grief and pain in our lives, but what a blessing it is when we do not have to live our grief and pain alone.”
Loneliness can seem like persecution, an unrelenting torment. Sometimes the only thing that keeps us going is the warm touch of another, the words of comfort that come to us from the Holy Spirit, the silent understanding conveyed in a smile. That is the compassion that we have for and show one another. It is a grace “that binds us together with brothers and sisters like ourselves, who share with us this wonderful and painful journey of life,” according to Nouwen. He writes that our deepest vocation is “becoming more and more fully what [we] already are: beloved daughters and beloved sons of God.” That’s what Jesus tries to get us to understand and accept over and over. When we are certain of God’s love we can endure all things; we can persevere to the end as faithful servants, as trusting children of God. We are able to accomplish because we have one another and we have Jesus.