Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Picture this! More than 200 people, most of them Muslims, gathered in front of a church in Bagdad to show their support for persecuted Christians, wearing T-shirts reading: “I AM IRAQI, I AM CHRISTIAN”. Or picture this: Iraqi Muslims marking their social media profiles with the letter “N” to show solidarity with the
“Nazarenes”, or Christians. This prompts me now to declare, “I AM AMERICAN, I AM CHRISTIAN”.
It seems that Christians in America have been quick to respond to earthquakes in Haiti, tsunamis in India, and starving children in the Sudan, but what will be our response to the persecution of Christian brothers and sisters?
Since capturing Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul in early June, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), has ordered Christians to convert to Islam, pay crushing jizya taxes levied on non-Muslims, leave town, or die. Robbed of all their money, passports, and property, thousands of Christians struggle to survive. Add to their numbers Christian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, Christians imprisoned in Iran, Coptic Christians rounded up in Egypt, and priests butchered in Syria, and the list goes on. How are we Christians living in relative ease and luxury going to respond?
Today’s text takes up what Christ’s followers have done since
Jesus promised: “In this world you face persecution. But take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Today’s text cites two crises in particular facing early Christians: those imprisoned for the Gospel sake, and those tortured because of Jesus’ name. In both cases the author of Hebrews underscores the mutual love among members of Christ’s body and their sense of suffering with others.
Just as Christ our great high priest identifies with all the trials of His people and suffers in our frailties (Hebrews 2:14, 18; 4:15), so we also are to identify with trials and frailties of brothers and sisters. We are to live out the golden rule by caring for them as if we were the ones imprisoned and tortured.
Adolph von Harnack in his magisterial work, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, captures the generous way Christians cared for one another in persecution and imprisonment:
In the great supplication offered every Sabbath by the churches, there was a fixed place assigned to intercession for the whole of Christendom throughout the earth. Before very long this kindled the consciousness that every individual member belonged to the holy unity of Christendom, just as it also kept them mindful of the services which they owed to the general body…Poverty, sickness, persecution, and suffering of all kinds formed one class of troubles which demanded constant help on the part of churches that were better off.
The pagan orator Aristides (A. D. 117-181) described the mutual love and care he saw in Christians: “If they hear that anyone of their number is imprisoned or in distress for the sake their Christ’s name, they all render aid in his necessity and, if he can be redeemed, they set him free”. (William Barclay, Letter to the Hebrews)
Today’s text says that we as Christians are to remember those who are imprisoned and tortured as though we were the ones imprisoned and tortured. I wonder, what would it mean for us to “remember” brothers and sisters persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Well, this week I got out my Greek lexicon and Greek concordance and looked up the use of “remember” (mimnesko) in the New Testament; here is what I found. For us to “remember” them, it would mean:
- remind oneself, recall to mind, keep in mind, (in contrast to forget);
- make mention of to others;
- care for;
- be concerned for, including prayer.
Jesus had made it clear that to minister to those imprisoned and afflicted for His name’s sake, was to minister to Christ Himself (Matthew 25:36, 40). Although there are times I feel like an insignificant pawn in history’s game of chess, there are yet some things I can do, and things God would command me to do:
- I can write my congressional representative and senators to express my deepest concern for persecuted Christians, as well as those denied the free exercise of religion.
- I can ask my church to remember persecuted Christians in weekly worship as well in special prayer vigils.
- I can pray daily for persecuted Christians.
- I can keep informed regarding persecuted Christians.
- I can give to legitimate charities offering aid to imprisoned and persecuted Christians (see denominational offices and relief agencies).
Thinking about our persecuted brothers and sisters causes me to read Jesus’ words with new understanding:
“…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
(Matthew 25:35-36, 40)
I AM CHRISTIAN!
photo by Eddie