Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Endurance is Underrated

I have four children who are ten-years-old or younger. It goes without saying, therefore, that there is a lot of complaining in our house. When we ask a child to empty the dishwasher or set the table or fold laundry. When one child takes a toy away from another or refuses to share with a sibling. When we have asparagus or spinach or mushrooms with supper. Lots of whining. I hope and pray that they will all grow out of it, but, at this point, I'll settle for an hour of contentment.

Maybe it's because I can't get a kid to start and finish a chore without complaining, but, to me, endurance seems vastly underrated.

Today, in the life of the church, we celebrate the witness of Perpetua and her companions, who were martyred in the third century for refusing to participate in sacrifices to the emperor's divinity. Legend has it that Perpetua's father begged her to recant, but she refused, saying simply, "I am a Christian." According to Lesser Feasts & Fasts, they were thrown into the arena to be killed by an assortment of wild animals, including a bear, a boar, and a "savage cow" (whatever that is). When the animals did not finish the job, a soldier went to strike Perpetua in the neck with a sword, but he missed, and Perpetua herself had to guide the sword to its proper place. Some say that the evil represented by the executioner would not have been able to kill her had she not submitted to death voluntarily. Throughout it all, Perpetua and her companions encouraged one another to face death nobly and not to give into the temptation to renounce their faith.

The gospel lesson for today is Matthew 24:9-14, in which Jesus warns his disciples that they will be "tortured" and "put to death" and "hated by all nations because of [his] name."  That may have been true of the original disciples and other early Christians like Perpetua and her companions. But what about us? None of us will be subjected to a "savage cow." None of us is likely to be executed because of our faith. What do Jesus' words mean to this generation?

In the face of those challenges, Jesus encouraged his disciples, saying, "But the one who endures to the end will be saved." I take that not as a warning but a word of hope. Yes, sufferings will come, but, if you endure, you will be saved. There is light on the other side of darkness. On the other side of suffering is God's salvation. Maybe that was Jesus' most important word to those early Christians, and maybe it's the most important thing we can hear him say.

We may not face the sword, but we do face hardships, and I find myself drawn toward those who bear the challenges of life with hope and a spirit of perseverance and not constant complaining. There are those among us who whine at every disappointment. I don't like being around them much. But those who have endured incredible difficulty physically, emotionally, financially, and relationally and who bear those burdens with grace and light are those I want to be with in life's journey. They help me see what it means to have hope in the face of adversity. They are the ones who have received Jesus' encouragement. They are the ones who remind us how to have faith. They are the Perpetuas all around us, whose witness encourage us through life's challenges.

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