The Touchstone For Religious Liberty: Jesus

thumbnail22As we approach John 15:18-John 16:3, the first thing to keep in mind is the Scriptures’ relevance for the battles Christians are engaged in today.  Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, was recently quoted in the National Catholic Register (June 30):  “The task of the Church is to proclaim the truth–whether easy or hard, popular or unpopular, ‘convenient or inconvenient,’ as St.Paul charged.”

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you,” Jesus tells his followers in John 15:18.  Because of what he says in verses 24-25 and 16:2, we realize that in this context he was referring not to those wrestling with doubts, but to the hardened unbelievers among the Jews.  As the Ignatius Study Guide (ISG) explains, “The world can refer to the universe created by God (John 1:10); to the fallen family of man in need of redemption (John 3:17); (or) to the sphere of the devil that opposes God and hates the truth,” which we see defined here in verses 18-20.

Concerning verses 19-21, here are some other New Testament verses which bring further clarification and emphasis to Jesus’ words:  Matthew 10:22; I Corinthians 4:12; Acts 4:16-18; II Timothy 3:12; and I Peter 4:14.

In verse 22, Jesus speaks of those who have “no excuse” for their unbelief.  “Revelation entails the responsibility of embracing it.  Had Jesus not spoken the truth to the world, its culpability would be lessened.” (ISG)  Romans 2:1-16 is St.Paul’s important discourse concerning this very subject, and is well worth reading and pondering.  And we see that scoffers are in great danger of God’s judgment, in John 12:47-50.

In verse 25, Jesus says, “…(it) is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.”  We hear echoes here of Psalm 35:19 and Psalm 69:4.  “The disciples must learn from this word of caution from Jesus that the world’s hatred will not go unnoticed by the Father, but he will one day deliver them from the malice of their oppressors.” (ISG)  And one cannot help but think about the great revelation of the personal God to Moses in Exodus 3:7.

In verse 26, Jesus tells his followers that “…when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me.”  The Catechism (CCC 244-46) gives us the Church’s foundational trinitarian teaching concerning the Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– in action, as it were.

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Well, how relevant is all this today, really?

The June 30 Register also has a front page article entitled, “Lay Effort Begins for U.S. Religious Liberty.”  There is a newly-formed group in Long Island, New York, Catholics for Freedom of Religion (CFFR), “a grassroots effort to promote and defend religious liberty in the United States.”  Two lay women started the group back in April, 2012, and Barbara Samuells, one of them, is quoted:  “It is the bishops’ role to teach, but it’s our job, as the laity, to defend religious liberty.”  And so far, “By word of mouth, individuals from Illinois, Indiana, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have contacted CFFR about starting chapters in their home parishes.”  The CFFR has as its mission to awaken Catholics to the imminent dangers to religious freedom, to educated Catholic youth with a curriculum, and to foster youth engagement.  “We really attempt to give people a whole background,” Samuells said, “so they not only understand freedom of religion, but also understand how important it is to our country’s past, present, and future.”

I hope, in taking time to study the above Scripture passages, it has become even clearer how all that Jesus said continues to impact our lives right now.  JC