“If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26
The irony of receiving rejection from those nearest to you
When a renewed Christian tries to change their former secular ways, they may simultaneously experience severe demoralization in the form of rejection, from their Christian community and immediate or extended family, (some of whom may be very regular in rigorous religious practices). This happens despite them making a lot of sacrifices and greatly humbling themselves for their community or family. They may experience being picked on, ignored, embarrassed (perhaps in front of others) and even confounded, when their own tend to denigrate their renewed character or mock them. This tends to make them feel lonely and discouraged.
Of course there are certain Christians, who also feel persecuted by their own, but in fact, it is they who very often compromise all or most good quality time and bonding with their family, for Godly ministries (which is not God’s desire), as it neglects their family.
The scripture above (Luke 14:26) which is about loving Christ above family, hints that there will be different dimensions of pain one will experience with this test. One needs to be prepared that, each dimension of pain, points to different areas they need to detach from the first stock, from which they come, to be fully grafted into the new stock, who is Christ.
If this is you, it can be difficult not only for you but also your family, relatives or/and friends, because if one family member experiences such changes, the other members have to accept this change, which is also an adjustment for them.
Without the intention of bringing discomfort, a renewed Christian could cause the closest members (living with them) to sense many changes in them that could bring about the others’ uneasiness. It should be understood that this is Jesus’ loud yet silent extended call, to the rest of the members to a deeper conversion. This would mean a sacrifice, that some are not ready to embrace, in preference of their “normal” or comfortable lifestyle. However, when Jesus transforms you, in most cases, He will seek out the rest of your closest ones (because a true church is a community and not just one member). Those members who are quite sensitive to this change, may react in opposition to you, which will cause you the pain of persecution.
Jesus Himself knew He would face this from some of His closest relatives: And when his friends had heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him. For they said: He is become mad. – Mark 3:21
It is hard enough to accept the fact that, in following Him closely, you know you will need to regularly introspect, come to terms with your weaknesses and constantly make efforts to renounce all of it. Yet perhaps an equally painful cross, is to be wounded, unsupported and rejected, by those who were a regular part of our lives, with whom we may or may not have once enjoyed close relations, but nonetheless they are always around us, at home, church or even work.
Real reasons behind the pain of persecution
Even after introspection, we may not realize that because we still have some weaknesses in us (which are like live, un-insulated wires), we experience the pain of persecution, when our own offend us. Unknown to us, God is even using the pain the persecutions produce to enlighten us that we have open nerves which need to be insulated and herein, He works at fine pruning us. For what He sees is that some of these weaknesses (whether sinful or just additional (even seemingly healthy) attachments) are blocks to the path of virtue and total freedom.
Scripture (referring to the lives of biblical figures), are often the best places to find purpose to our problems, when sometimes even great Christian leaders among us, have not experienced that particular problem and cannot advice us on it. It is helpful to reflect on these biblical figures because many of them underwent a suffering exactly similar to yours.
We feel that some of our sufferings are very personal (as we cannot even find words to explain the magnitude and pain), but as hard as it is to believe, it is actually untrue. That exact experience and magnitude of mental, emotional and physical pain is not limited to us alone, although the circumstances that brought it about, may be unique. It is true that those around us may lack similar experience to advice us, yet certain spiritual fathers (from the bible), long to teach us the meaning behind this suffering – as they went before us and in many cases suffered worse.
The exact or very similar pain and feelings of great discomfort, are part of the effective method of teaching, that God uses on us as He also did then to teach holiness to those fathers, the saints! While we may be aghast to hear this, God teaches us effectively through an experience of feelings, even our own negative ones. Only with a positive mindset, can we decode the pain as nuggets of information pertaining to the problems/weaknesses within our soul. Ironically these are the fundamental reasons, for experiencing pain, when persecuted by others.
Upon meditating on the unfolding of some of the biblical characters’ life story, the hidden and dynamic victorious plan of God, that satan had no inkling of – is also unraveled, after they learnt to embrace and conquer their sufferings.
Our topic’s main biblical character is Joseph the Patriach (son of Jacob).
God’s Promised Land could only be ruled by holy people and inhabited by a nation consecrated to Him
Though Abraham, Issac and Jacob were God fearing, their lineage, which is, several of Jacob’s sons who were with him in (today’s Promised Land) Canaan, lived a life of abomination while the rest of the brothers, except Joseph, were unperturbed watching these sinful brothers, carry on their evil works (to the grief of their great ancestors).
Simeon and Levi – Murderers and thieves: These were blood thirsty princes who out of anger and revenge for their sister’s rape, wiped out all the Hivite men of that city and plundered their goods as well.
Ruben – An adulterer and parent dishonourer: He had relations with the concubine of Jacob and brought disgrace to his father’s bed.
Gad, Asher, Dan and Naphtali – of whose bad conduct Joseph made a report on.
God had always wanted these sons or tribes of Israel – none other than the 12 princes of the Holy Land to inhabit and rule the Promised Land, but they were definitely unfit to even live in it. Hence He could not allow them to stay, for they would continue to sin and as they multiplied, their lineage would refuse to cooperate with God in establishing the holiness of the Holy Land.*
1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Joseph, your patriarch
Only Joseph, their second youngest brother, was the exception, who was steadfast in pursuing God. Firstly, he loved and honoured his father Jacob, stayed close to him, respecting and following Jacob’s dedication to God and Godly values. Due to Joseph’s faithfulness to God (who showed him in dreams that His favour was upon him) and the love Jacob had for him, his brothers were jealous (yet it must be said that Joseph himself was childishly imprudent in making it very obvious he was so favoured. How strange, that these same elder brothers, believers of the same God and part of the same family, nonetheless persecuted him (till they were convinced that he would not survive), knowing that they would also break Jacob’s heart.
Sold into slavery as a youth, through the help of God, Joseph survived, roughing out all the storms, while using the blessings and skills God gave him, this not only led to his survival but it reaped him such great prosperity, from slavery to kingship.
An amazing fact about Joseph: Unlike us, he never needed anyone to teach him the 10 Commandments. 400 years before Moses’ birth and the initiation of the 10 Commandments, Joseph who never heard of these laws, had a heart completely conformed to these 10 Commandments.
1st Commandment: I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
Even though he was greatly tested, being treated as an inferior (slave) and perhaps the only Hebrew, in a land of foreign Gods, where Pharaoh was considered God or God’s only mediator, Joseph boldly declared his faithfulness to his one true God. We see this as he stood before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams:
Genesis 41:15-16: Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
Out of fear, he could have agreed with Pharaoh that he had the ability to interpret dreams. No in fact, knowing that Pharaoh was considered a God, he pointed him to one more supreme than Pharaoh, such that he made Pharaoh open his eyes to believe. We read that in the next verses 37-38, Pharaoh deduced the following: “The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
4th Commandment: Honor your father and your mother.
Joseph had kept the fourth commandment so well that it was also the reason he enjoyed the favour of his father but that was not all. Sensing most of his notorious brothers were jealous of him, nonetheless he honoured Jacob’s instructions who often asked him to join them working in the pastures, knowing he would be alone without Jacob, which could subject him to their taunting or even endanger him.
5thCommandment: You shall not kill.
Not only did Joseph hate bloodshed even if it were of his enemies, but was the first to show mercy and forgiveness to his brothers, unlike some of them who even thirsted for his own blood!
6th Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.
Young and handsome, yet Joseph completely shunned the lure of Potiphar’s beautiful wife, even though she threw herself upon him, several times. Thereafter he accepted imprisonment without protest.
7th Commandment: You shall not steal.
8th Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
The 9th and 10th Commandment about your neighbor, which is the same as the 6th and 7th
Though he had complete control over the assets and riches of Potiphar, he never used this to his advantage to steal either his wealth or his wife. He wanted to remain truthful to God and his human master.
One by one or step by step, we see God testing Joseph through all these stages/commandments (as He will you), in order to promote him (and you) to be the Royal Prince and Patriach.
If we think this is hard, God did not spare His only Son from this, as we learn in Hebrews 4:15 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Expect the cross and the crown (and in that order), when you come closer to God
You can be sure to expect all these stages of testing – most especially when, you continually make attempts to come even closer to God. At that time it would be helpful to remember what commandment, sub-commandment or commandment on love, you are unable to master, when you face trials. Then try to reflect on what kind of fruit God is pruning you to bring forth and as you start working towards it, that pain you are experiencing, will come to an end.
Why does God test us this way? The answer is: “Matthew 5:48 – Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”.
For us to be bolder in the face of persecution, it is helpful to know beforehand, that we will definitely go through a lot of testing of the First Commandment. Meaning, there are times, in day to day practical living, when by your actions, you will have shown preference for God’s precepts and some of these ways are not in line with the ways of your family, relatives, friends or colleagues, which will cause antagonism.
Now, it is important to understand that though it seems extraordinary to the world, to be like a Joseph (which is extremely difficult), nonetheless God has perfection on his mind for each of us. We have to work to that end, because it is not an option but a duty, since being a Christian is to be Christ like!
As you work at perfecting your nature, God will then deem you fit to receive the crown of leadership as Joseph. Yet when that time comes, it will not even mean the world to you (as it would to worldly people), because by then you will also receive a new farsightedness, that of a patriarch. This will draw you to desire and execute much more. For you will selflessly and humbly thirst for the salvation of others – your own family, friends and your enemies – even those who persecuted you.
By the time we become rulers or leaders, God desires that this position of authority will never be something that we use to glorify ourselves, but to glorify God by establishing His humble perfect way of ruling in wisdom, love and farsightedness.
Joseph the son of God
God had always been calling all the 11 tribes of Israel to also be faithful to Him, but they did not bother. What they did not realize is that they committed a huge error thinking that the call was only a matter of choice!
So to begin the process of bringing them back after their sinful life in Canaan, God used the famine and thereafter Joseph, as the humble instrument to go down before his brothers, hugging and forgiving them, bringing reconciliation within the family (and to God’s heart). This is why he was not only a great ruler (which was temporary, meaning until his death), but is permanently known as a Patriach (like a father figure or head).
Joseph prefigured Jesus: God’s ultimate plan was to call Joseph to grow in holiness, through solitude living, so one day, he would rule side by side with God, as his son.
In those times, Egypt was considered the most powerful nation and Pharaoh a God. Metaphorically, this kingdom of power stood for God’s kingdom and Pharaoh stood for God. It was truly God who had been calling Joseph to seclusion, to be taught and live in peace through the Spirit. In this optimum environment, Joseph grew in wisdom, patience, humility, performance and thus prospered, when one day he was called to receive the crown of son-ship from his father (God), working alongside Him, as the second in command, because he ruled based on God’s (not Pharaoh’s or pagan) precepts.
After all the testing he went through, he was fit to rule the people and this also benefitted all the pagan Egyptians.
Could the rest of the 11 tribes and some of our own manage to elude the school of perfection?
God needed a nation consecrated to Him, which meant that the 11 tribes were meant to have virtues that they would hand down to their lineage, teaching them the values of God, so that they could peacefully inhabit the Promised Land. Since they were unwilling to be pruned, because they treated it as an option, He did not allow them to escape the school of perfection.
Some of the brothers were not even that grateful to Joseph, as thereafter they did not try to take him as a spiritual model. What is worse (as per scripture), is that they showed an awful and insulting distrust of his goodness. In their faithlessness they feared he would torture them, after Jacob, their father’s demise.
As they had such sinful ways of living since years, they had to learn the hard way. God had to prune them, as they would continue to stay in Egypt and their lineage (long after the famine of Canaan ended), until they were finally shackled as slaves!
It was 400 years into slavery, when they finally completed, the first stage of pruning, after which God sent Moses, to lead them out of Egypt. Now the second stage of pruning began for 40 long years in the wilderness. The reason is, though they were given the 10 commandments (in Exodus chapter 20), they, continued to operate in the same spirit handed down by their stubborn and sinful ancestors (some of the 12 tribes), behaving worse and worshipped the golden calf (as we see in Exodus chapter 32).
They blindly continued with more abominable sins, rebelling against God and Moses, hence God taught them the hard way, including wiping out many of them.
Finally after bringing them to some level of perfection, where they inculcated a few values, they slowly accepted a shift from their old ways to God’s ways more and more, until one day, they were victoriously led by Joshua back to Canaan.
Just as Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden because of sin, the tribes of Israel who had sinned, also went out of Canaan (which was meant to be the Holy Land) and landed in Egypt. Here they learnt hard but perfect lessons through sufferings with Pharaoh and in the wilderness, till they embraced the ways of God and returned home!
Neither we, nor our very own, can escape God’s call to pruning, as it was with these brothers and their lineage, who were also commissioned to learn just like Joseph. While it took Joseph a few years to learn, it took the remaining 11 tribes more than 440 hard years of torture, for them to fit into His good plan.
*A surprising fact: As Catholics, can we recognize today, who those 12 princes or ruling tribes (whom God took 440 years to prune) were meant to represent? The 12 apostles! This was the reason they had to be pruned from what they were (erring humans) to shinning saints and patriarchs (the apostles).
Matthew 19:28 – Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
God also has wonderful plans such as this not only for you, but your own people.
Joseph, Moses, David and you
Moses and David: Both these men of God were persecuted; Moses by his own siblings and Israelites and David by his brothers, unfavoured by his father Jesse and persecuted by Saul and his army.
Everyone will not achieve the same level of perfection. However if the brothers did not have Joseph, nor the tribes have Moses, nor the Israelites have David (and these persecuted their own leaders), they would not have a living example to direct them to God, because the textual law was never enough to follow Him.
Something to note about your life, as it happened with Joseph’s: Only after Joseph was pruned and fully grafted into God (and would never rely on his brothers but God, for real love), God caused his brothers to return to him. Seeing his confidence in God, whose power they realized operated in him, they were now drawn (unlike before), to start the process of being grafted into God, firstly by being subjected to his rule, as their king and governing brother. When you too are grafted into God – meaning for most part the persecution of your near ones do not hurt you anymore and you have become strong in Christ, God will make them return or desire, like you, to also leave their first stock and follow your path, to be grafted into God.
God continues this today, through exemplary Christians and Catholic saints who we can look to as living examples and lights of Christ, we can refer to their lives for directions, as some of them, had similar life stories to our own. He also continues this living example, through you, the Catholic and Christian of today, who want to walk the road of Christ.
When you convert and truly live a life of virtue, it may be exemplary in the eyes of the world, but as a Christian it is our duty. Easier said than done, but the quicker we learn the better. We may have to face persecution from our closest and in spite of that, God will commission us to be the ones to intercede for them and desire their salvation, but in the end, whether they accept God’s call the easy or hard way, they too have the duty of accepting it and no one can escape His call, unless they choose the most bitter end.
“Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).