This coming Sunday is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary Cycle C. In yesterday’s post we discussed what is essentially a “theology of history.” Today we focus on the preparation of the disciples for what is coming: the Kingdom of God even as the kingdom of men falls. But before all these things will come persecution. Disciples will need to stand prepared for its coming. “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.” (v.12)
The bevy of verbs [seize (lit. lay hands on), persecute, hand you over, led before kings, etc.] are ones that are used again, not only of Jesus during his Passion, but also of the early disciples early in Acts and of St. Paul in the latter parts of Acts. Especially in Acts, these are all settings in which the disciples give witness and testimony. Luke strengthens the connection between Jesus and the following persecutions of the disciples.
The mention of synagogues shows that the period of the early church is in view. In fact, the initial fulfillment of this prediction comes in Acts, starting after the proclamation of Jesus in chapter 3 leads to arrest and persecution in Acts 4. Virtually every chapter after that describes the persecution of the earliest church.
Luke uses a key term to characterize disciples: witnesses for Jesus (It will lead to your giving testimony, v. 13; compare Acts 1:6-8). Between now and the end, they are called to witness to him. Part of that witness is how they face persecution. From Stephen’s martyrdom to the suffering of many in the formerly communist Eastern Europe and in Muslim countries, testimony to Jesus in the face of persecution has had a compelling impact throughout history.
Again Jesus tells his people not to worry. They need not be overly concerned with how they might defend themselves. They don’t need a defense attorney, for Jesus himself will be their defense: Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute (v.15; compare Acts 4:8-12; 7:54; 26:24-32). Though Jesus does not explain here how this works, Luke 12:11-12 and John 14-16 make clear that the gift alluded to here is the Holy Spirit.
The persecution will be painful, because it will involve parents, brothers, relatives and friends. This is why discipleship requires putting God ahead of family (14:26). Some of God’s people will even meet death. Put bluntly, “You will be hated by all because of my name.” (v.17) Part of the chaos before the capital’s fall and before the end is the persecution of those allied to Jesus.
But the disciples will receive comfort. “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” (v.18) In light of verse 16, this cannot mean that none of them will die. Rather, it must mean that even if they die, they will live (12:4-7). There is no way real harm will come, since Luke uses the emphatic Greek negative here (ou me). In short, by standing firm with Jesus, one gains life – or to use Luke’s language, “you will secure your life.” (v.19) Thus Luke again emphasizes perseverance. Those who cling to the Word with patience bear fruit (8:15). Luke has made it clear that standing firm requires resolve and counting the cost (14:25-33), properly assessing the cares of life (8:14; 14:15-24) and not overvaluing material possessions or the pleasures of life (8:14; 12:19).
Image credit: Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez. Oil on canvas, 1867. Public Domain