In today’s Gospel, Jesus encourages his disciples to have courage in the face of persecution. Violent persecution would become commonplace for early Christians at times and would be always be a distinct possibility for them because being Christian was a capital offense for roughly 250 years in the Roman empire. The Christians would be barred from the synagogues after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. And, from the Nero to Constantine, any accusation that one was a Christian would likely bring an arrest, a quick trial, and (for those who refused to deny their faith) a likely execution.
We do not face the threat of such violent persecution in this country. We do not face the threat of death from our government because of our faith. However, in some parts of the world, either or both are constant threats.
In recent days, we are thankfully growing in our awareness of the sin of racism. I did not grow up experiencing racism. I try to empathize with those that did. But I will never fully understand their experience. And it is an experience that does not go away. Discrimination based on race is a continuing threat. So, I try to learn about their experience. I try to hear them out. To listen to their pain. And I try to never dismiss their experience or what they feel about it.
My concern for racism does not diminish my concerns for other things. I do not become any less pro-life. I do not become any less eager to share the Gospel message with others. I do not become less committed to my fundamental mission of helping others become saints. But I do not allow my concerns for those other things to crowd out a necessary concern for racism. It also does not mean that I am supporting those causes contrary to the Christian faith that might be trying to be included in the movement to combat racism.
Those suffering violent persecution are almost all not of European descent. Does that lessen my willingness to express compassion for their suffering? Am I less willing to call attention to their persecution because they are somehow not like me? Does a difference in skin color lessen my righteous anger when they suffer because of their faith?
Jesus calls us to unity. All brothers and sisters in Christ are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Division is not of God. My concern for, and willingness to act on behalf of, those who are persecuted should not be proportional to their similarity to me.
Am I willing to speak for them? Especially if they are different from me?