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A CHRISTIAN WILL BE PERSECUTED FOR PREACHING THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, First Week of Lent, February 20, 2016
Deuteronomy 26:16-19, Psalm 118, Matthew 5:43-48


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44-45).


This is Jesus' commandment to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. The motivation for doing this is to imitate God who shines his sun on both the evil and the good. Jesus' commandment is a challenge to do more, as his followers, than sinners do, who only love their friends. If we only love our friends, we are hardly doing anything more than sinners, who do the same. Jesus calls us to a higher ideal than that. He calls us to imitate God and be perfect. "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).


As Christians we have a very high ideal to live up to. We are to be perfect and imitate God himself in his kindness to everyone. And what is perfection, and how can we be perfect? We can do so by doing the will of God; in this instance, by doing the very difficult thing of loving those who attack us. No one likes to be attacked, and so we try to avoid the people who attack us or refuse to speak civilly to us. We don't want to be around them or near them for fear that they will attack us again.


Such people are difficult to talk to. When we try to converse with them on a topic of their interest, they refuse to answer or tell us that we should already know the answer to our question. Others are filled with envy if we know more than they do about some current topic.


So how do we deal with such people in a perfect way? Jesus tells us that we are to love and pray for those who persecute us. To love them means to forgive them in our heart before God and to pray for them. Can you do that? Can I do that? I think we can and should do that. So let us pray for them, telling God that we forgive them and asking God to help and bless them.


Other people hate us because we do not measure up to their own very high standards that they have for themselves. They may feel that it is very important to be well informed about certain matters and they make a great effort to inform themselves about these matters; and then they cannot tolerate those who are not well informed about these things, and they refuse to speak to them in a civil way. So if I am one of those less informed people that don't measure up to their high standards that they have for themselves and for everybody else, that is, if I am one of those whom they cannot tolerate and to whom they are unable to speak civilly, what should I do? Should I just try to avoid them? Maybe, for the sake of peace. But Christ says that I am to love them and pray for them.

 


II

 

No one, I think, had more enemies than St. Paul. Yet he says, "When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things" (1 Corinthians 4:12-13). St. Paul's one goal, ideal, and drive was to preach to ever new people - both Jews and Gentiles - the mystery of Christ, that is, of God's salvation of us sinners by sending his Son to die for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3).


St. Paul made his greatest enemies among the Jews, because he preached that we are justified by faith, "apart from works" (Romans 4:6), meaning that we do not justify and save ourselves by our works, but rather that God saves us by sending his Son to die for our sins, as our sin offering, to atone for them, by sacrificing himself on the cross to make reparation for them. Because of what Christ did for us on the cross, God declares those who believe in Christ acquitted and in the right, righteous and free to go, with no more price to pay for their sins, for it has been paid for them by Christ on the cross.


Many Jews who misunderstood their own law persecuted St. Paul, because they thought that justification was something that we have to earn ourselves by our own good works, that we can win God's forgiveness if we do enough good works, and that we can be justified if we can manage to have more good works than sins.


So they persecuted St. Paul who taught justification by faith, "apart from works" (Romans 4:6), and who said, "No human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law" (Romans 3:20), and "We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Romans 3:28).


But when he was persecuted in one city after another, he just went on to the next city and continued preaching the same gospel again. And we are to do the same. We are to preach the same gospel that St. Paul preached; and if we do, we too will be persecuted.


Many people, even today, cannot understand salvation from sin and justification by faith "apart from works" (Romans 4:6). Theirs is a worldly logic that says, "You don't get anything that you don't pay for yourself by your own hard work." They will not accept the Christian gospel, and they will reject us who preach it.


So what are we to do? We are to continue preaching the gospel, and, as St. Paul says, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them ... Repay no one evil for evil ... Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head'" (Romans 12:14, 17, 19-21). By being kind to our enemy, we will cause him to blush with shame at our kindness to one who only holds us in contempt and insults us.


And St. Peter says, "Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing" (1 Peter 3:9-10). And he says, "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled" (1 Peter 3:13-14).


Yes, times will come when we are persecuted for preaching the gospel. That is part of being a Christian. Even so, keep on preaching the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ that people need to hear, even if they reject it and do not want to hear it. For doing this, all the apostles suffered persecution. God will bless you all the more if you suffer for preaching the truth of the gospel.


"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God" (1 Peter 4:12-16).


This is our vocation as a Christian, as a missionary. We are sent to bring people something that they need, but, in many cases, do not want, because they do not know that they need it or because they do not believe in it. Nonetheless, they do need it, and so we continue to preach the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who will listen to us.

 

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