We belong to a global church. There are Catholics living in situations very different from our own. We have to remember this when we read scripture. What seems a little strange may speak powerfully to our brothers and sisters elsewhere.
In the gospel today, the disciples hear Jesus speak about persecution (Matt. 10.26-33). There will be situations, he warns them, when powerful authorities will want them to keep silent. There will be times when they will fear for their lives. Some 600 years before Jesus the prophet Jeremiah had encountered the same kind of hostility and opposition to the message of God (Jer. 20.10-13). There were those who wanted to silence him, just as later there would be those who hated the Christian message and wanted to choke it off. Fear silences people. That is why Jesus encourages the disciples not to be afraid to speak the truth. If the powers that be tried to silence them, they were to proclaim the truth more confidently, knowing that whatever happened, they would be held in the hands of God.
Imagine, if you will, hearing these words in northern Nigeria in areas where Boko Haram terrorises. Last week I was at a meeting where a priest from that area said that at the end of every Mass in that region, tensions rose in the congregation. They knew well that suicide bombers liked to strike at that time, so as to maximise casualties. Priest and people alike dreaded the sound of an approaching car. Christians in Pakistan today similarly have to worship under the protection of armed guards. In the Philippines, in the city of Marawi besieged by Islamic militants, a priest and people taken captive from the cathedral have not been heard from since. Nearer home, the Liberal Democratic leader, Tim Farron, announced that he was stepping down. The reason? In his own words:
From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I've tried to answer with grace and patience … At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again - asked about matters to do with my faith … I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader … To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching, has felt impossible for me. I'm a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me. There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it - it's not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel. Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.
Imagine that. In the United Kingdom, in 2017, a politician can be hounded because he is an evangelical Christian. We hear the words of Jesus in the gospel today: ‘Those who declare themselves to be for me in the presence of others, I will declare myself for them in the presence of my Father in heaven.’