For almost three years now I have been leading a weekly Tuesday morning Bible study. We usually focus on one of the readings for the upcoming Sunday’s worship service. During this Easter season we have focused our attention on The First Letter of John, one of the readings appointed for this Easter season. We begin each session reading the passage and noticing what initially strikes us about the passage. Each participant then shares—without any commentary—the word or phrase that grabbed their attention. Last Tuesday we were studying 1 John 3: 11—24. When verse 13 was being read, “Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you,” more than one person in the room, including me, had a visceral response.
Why did some of us have a spontaneous reaction to these words? Here is my hunch. In spite of the fact that the one we have pledged to follow was hated by the religious and political defenders of the status quo, we are still surprised that following him two thousand years later will meet the same kind of resistance. Why are we surprised? Our reaction may stem from a recognition of how little resistance our lives inspire. You see most Christians, myself included, have been led to believe that following Jesus won’t get us in trouble. After all, what’s not to love about Christians who are committed to loving people and helping people in need? We all go to awards banquets where Christians and others are quite rightly honored for hours upon hours of service to those who have fallen on hard times, and for that we should all be grateful.
So what were the early Christians in John’s community and elsewhere doing that inspired such hatred? Although 1 John is short on specifics, the way of life in John’s church and other early church communities was a threat to the status quo. For example, the reason Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” (Rom. 1.16a) is that the custodians of the status quo found it shameful that he was forming church communities that included Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female. Such communities offered an alternative way to the segregated societal norms. In our time, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the civil rights movement were hated because they were challenging the segregated societal norms. If King and others had only been inviting people to address the symptoms of an unjust society, nobody would have batted an eye. But that he challenged people to change the unjust structures of society that were responsible for human suffering, that is what got him in trouble and finally killed.
To live an Easter life—to be raised with Christ—is to live a Christ-like life that is a challenge to the entrenched injustice in our world. If we do that, we can rest assured that we will be hated. Just see what reaction you get at the next cocktail when you advocate for stricter gun control laws. Or just see what happens when you speak out against the use of military force to solve disputes because you want to live in obedience to Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” (Mt. 5.44). Or just see what happens when you support measures for criminal justice reform. Or just see what happens when you challenge tax laws that you believe are unjust. Or just see what happens….Well the list is endless.
Early Christians weren’t hated because they were good people; they were hated because their way of life was a judgment on the status quo, and the status quo fought back. The extraordinary thing is that like their Lord and Savior, the early followers of Jesus persisted in living this alternative way in spite of being hated, ridiculed and killed. And even more astonish, the New Testament tells us that were full of joy (see Phil 1:19ff) in spite of being hated. In baptism, we too have been raised with Christ. Let us live a risen life here and now regardless of what others think.