‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.’ (NRSV)
From the uncertainty and terror of the preceding cosmic vision Jesus moves seamlessly to the challenges such chaos will bring. Our passage is a warning.
But it is also much more.
The disciples will not enjoy an easy road. Jesus predicts both the threat and reality of violence from sources powerful enough to implement such evil. So far these darker shades have been used exclusively of Jesus suffering, death and resurrection. They now also sketch the future of those who would follow. On the surface it looks somewhat bleak.
But a glance beyond the terror reveals that our passage is brimming with hope. Jesus’ words ask something of his listeners: ‘beware’, ‘do not worry’, ‘say’ what is given, ‘endure to the end’. He hopes his violent images will not paralyse but mobilise their faith.
Jesus believes they can live beyond fear.
Perhaps this is more than the disciples can believe of themselves. Embedded in this picture is God’s belief that their infantile faith will grow and produce endurance and its everlasting fruit: salvation.
The request for their trust through suffering is no more than Jesus expects of himself. All too soon the Messiah will know the betrayal of those closest to him. He will be hated; dragged before authorities; tried and sentenced. Through all this even Jesus will need a Spirit-tuned ear and a God-given stamina. Like any good leader Jesus asks no more of his followers than of himself. In fact this prophecy loudly and deliberately echoes his earlier predictions regarding his own future.
Although the tone may be changing, the essence of Jesus message is not. The trust Jesus calls for is certainly mature and tested. But it is not different. In fact Jesus asks nothing beyond what he has from the very beginning: ‘Follow me’.
We are left to wonder if this is some sort of turning point for the disciples. It obviously looks like an excuse-giving opportunity for Judas. Talk like this asks for betrayal. But what of the other eleven faithful companions? As yet we have not seen them truly embrace the possibility of Jesus’ passion and death. What will they do with a similar prophecy of their own suffering?
Once again there is no immediate response. In fact the disciples may not have been given much of a chance. Jesus seems to just keep on talking!
But when he stops the message is out and there is space for the disciples to begin the process of taking it in.
The disciples do well to make this message their own. So do we. Look at it long enough and the hope and presence of God in all circumstances begins to dominate. Sometimes the richest response takes the most time.
There is an element to Jesus’ future gazing that looks general rather than specific. I imagine each disciple tempted to seek a private audience with Jesus regarding their individual futures. Sometimes we want detail beyond what is best for us.
The particulars will make themselves known in their own time. Soon enough these Jesus-students will witness their Rabi incarnate, or embody, all these things. He will live them so that – when the time comes – his disciples will know exactly what faith-filled endurance looks like.
Yes, faith through suffering looks remarkably like the unfolding story of this gospel.