"By your perseverance you will secure your lives" (Luke 21:19).
The Christian church Luke was writing for no doubt felt the threat of persecution as Christianity began to spread in the Roman empire. Believers were being brought before magistrates for refusing to offer incense to the gods and patriotic fealty to the State. Followers of Jesus were regarded as radicals, and joining the church caused conflict between generations in families. Spies turned in dissenters and neighbors betrayed one another.
Luke's account of Jesus' prediction that persecution would happen drew on older scriptural texts about brave believers who resisted rulers. The Book of Daniel tells how God protected the Jews during the Babylonian captivity, even when they confronted their conquerors, as today's reading describes. Daniel, who in yesterday's passage did not hesitate to tell the king that his kingdom had "feet of clay," again tells the king today that the "handwriting is on the wall' and that his rule was about to fall apart. These example of prophetic courage were intended to inspire Luke's community under persecution.
How much courage does it take to live the Christian life today? In some part of the world it can be a matter of life an death. Pope Francis' decision to go to Myanmar and Bangladesh has put him and the small Catholic community there in the crosshairs of controversy between Buddhists and Muslims. To speak of everyone as worthy of human dignity and basic rights is a courageous thing to say in some places. But the pope has stepped in where most other world leaders have remained silent.
Everyone who advocates for justice is walking a radical line in our own society. To protest for an end to nuclear weapons, prison reform, racial equality, a living wage, protection of refugees and immigrants takes courage. The promise of the Spirit to give eloquence to those who witness for what is right invites all of us to step into the breach where we live to defend the most vulnerabie and to speak for the voiceless. This is a matter of faith as much as maintaining our religious practices and orthodoxy.