In yesterday’s A La Carte post I included this quote by Matthew Henry: “Christ’s followers cannot expect better treatment in the world than their Master had.” I liked it enough that I later added it to Twitter where it was retweeted many times. Later in the day I found myself thinking about these words a little bit and found them rather convicting. What Henry says is true, of course: those who follow Jesus should not expect to be treated better than he was. This is attested throughout the New Testament and it is displayed in the history of the early church. Those who followed Jesus suffered. Those who followed Jesus most closely suffered most.
But here is what I found convicting: I am treated quite well in the world. Becoming a pastor has been interesting in that it seems to be a position that commands respect. When someone asks what I do and I reply that I am a pastor, most people respond quite positively. Often people immediately want to confess a sin or to confess why they no longer attend church. What has been consistent, though, is that they treat me well. And, really, this has been my lifelong experience as a Christian. I like a good quote about suffering as a Christian as much as anyone, but they ring true theoretically more than experientially.
And all of this makes me wonder, if Henry is right, could it be that the reason we are treated better than Christ is that we are not faithful to bring the same message he brought? Are we faithful to bring it to the lost with the same force and the same motivation? Are we really like him if we are not treated like him?
As I look back, I see that I have often made statements like this one: “God has given us a time of remarkable peace and tranquility.” That is my explanation for the peace and respect we experience. I acknowledge that through much of church history Christians have been persecuted; if they are not actively being persecuted, they are just recovering from persecution or seeing it on the horizon. Elsewhere in the world—in much of the world—Christians face ongoing persecution. Why not us?
I sometimes find myself wondering if God has given us this time, if he has created the conditions for it, if it really is that time of peace and tranquility, or if we have done it ourselves. Is it possible that we are actually just using this kind of talk as an excuse? Do we use it as a rationale for our own passivity?
Let me draw a comparison to parenting. Aileen and I have had times as parents where we realize that it has been quite a while since we have had to actively discipline one of our children (or all of our children). Though it’s not always the case, we find ourselves asking in these times, “Have they changed? Or have we just stopped caring? Are we allowing bad behavior just because we’ve stopped caring?” In other words, have we created the conditions through our own apathy?
I suppose I’ve got more questions than answers. But I think the questions are fair. If we’re being who we are called to be, if we are living the way we are called to live, if we are serving the One we’re called to serve, then why aren’t we being treated the way we’ve been told to expect?