St. Matthew 10.vv.16-22
~ Jesus said, "See I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at the time; for it is not you who speak but the Spirit of the Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his children, 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." ~
The words of Jesus, "Behold I am sending you out as sheep among wolves" do not sound very kind, until we remember that his "service is perfect freedom"; we can refuse to love and serve him; he does not compel us, but those to whom these words were addressed had already cast in their lot with him and were pledged to his service.
Jesus knew moreover that there is something in the Spirit of men and women that rises to meet a challenge. The call of the heroic speaks to our hearts. Sir Ernest Shackleton, setting off for the south pole, was inundated with letters from young and old, rich and poor, of high and low estate, volunteering to share in his venture. They already knew the risks; they had been forewarned. Sir Winston Churchill during the Second World War promised us blood, toil, sweat and tears. His expectations were fully confirmed, but his people survived the ordeal.
Jesus was an absolute realist. He knew the forces of evil ranged against the good. He knew what his followers could expect, nor was he mistaken.
Among some of the earliest martyrs for the Christian faith was the aged Polycarp who, on his way to martyrdom, was urged by friends and enemies to recant, to forswear his faith in Jesus and thus escape with his life. "Eighty and six years have I served him and he has never done me wrong, how then can I deny my Saviour?" said Polycarp and proceeded on his journey to martyrdom.
In the sad history of the Church down through the ages, we read in such a horrifying book as "Fox's Book of Martyrs" the appalling cruelty and suffering to which Christians have been subjected and their courage, and constancy in the faith.
As Jesus predicted, even families have been divided over loyalty to Jesus.
Truly we are not today likely to be called upon to suffer for our faith, but we still need courage to live for Christ. There are many insidious dangers. Society and the unregenerate world are "crooked".
We need courage to stand out, often alone, against the pressures of the world.
How often we hear as an excuse for amoral or immoral behaviour, "Everyone does it", and we need to reply, "No, not everyone. Christians do not, nor shall I". Around us we perceive petty as well as flagrant dishonesty which we must reject. Not only in the media but in other ways too we are reminded that purity in thought, speech and action have all too often given way to coarse and uncouth behaviour with which Christians can have nothing to do.
In all such instances it is necessary to be courageous in rejecting and disapproving of such behaviour, in "standing up and being counted", as we say.
Jesus knew our inner nature and our weaknesses, but he promises us his presence and power, his strength and courage. Only in the assurance of his presence with us can we have the courage to witness faithfully to him and only he could possibly say such a thing as, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves".
Courage is not a fearlessness born of unthinking instinctive behaviour but of acknowledging the inward fear, facing up to it and believing in him who is so much greater than we are and who has promised us his presence, bringing victory out of our fears.
Victory lies in the knowledge of the presence of God and his Christ.