From the Word of the Day
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. (John 15: 18-21)
We are still on the theme of Jesus’ farewell address but now there is a brusque beginning and a change of scene that presupposes something not said before: the confusion of a community that confesses Christ and has been persecuted. Now, what the Teacher declares to His disciples goes for every Christian community tested because of its faith and, therefore, it goes for us and our community today as well. The precious word that Jesus leaves as a heritage to the Christians of the third millennium as well, and which cannot be forgotten, is the word ‘persecution’. “Remember the words I spoke to you…the servant is not greater than his master”. Jesus warns His disciples that they will be hated and persecuted, but at the same time, He assures them that this hatred of the world and its persecution is the place in which the witness of the Spirit will be shown and theirs as well. ‘World’ in this context has a negative value, representing all the hostile powers that are opposed to the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation centered in Christ. This is the world that hates Christ.
Jesus also gives an ulterior meaning. He does not limit Himself to predict the world’s hatred, but explains it and unmasks its hidden roots. He does all this so that the disciples will know and will not be scandalized and become discouraged when it all happens. Persecution is part of Salvation History; it is the Way of the Cross that continues. The world hated Christ and it will continue to hate His disciples. The reason for this is the difference of origin: the disciples are not from the world; even though they are in the world…they do not belong to it. Thus, the world’s hatred is not a reason for scandal, but rather a clear and unmistakable sign of belonging to Christ.
Persecution was an experience that accompanied the primitive Church, calling forth a deep series of reflections, both theological and spiritual, beginning with an ancient text of the mid-second century which is cited below.
The Voice of Diognetus
Christians live their life on the earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the established laws, but their tenor of life is beyond laws. They love everyone and they are persecuted by everyone. They are not known and are condemned. They are given death and they receive life. The Jews fight against them as a foreign race and the Hellenists persecute them. But those who hate them do not know how to give a reason for their hatred. The soul dwells in the body but does not come from the body. The Christians live in the world, but they do not come from the world.