The news over the last few days has been crowded with reports of the protests and disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere following the verdict of the grand jury in the Michael Brown case. My inboxes have been stuffed with requests for petitions as well as protests and expressions of anger directed from and at both sides in the dispute. One thing has become very evident to me – there is much more to all this than the shooting of an 18-year-old black youth in Missouri. It’s about the perception of inequality and injustice, the perceived insolence of the police, and the bias of the courts. We may never know what really happened that night in August. But as in the case of Trayvon Martin, the perception of racial prejudice, official discrimination, and growing outrage is indelible.
I couldn’t help but relate these events to today’s readings. The link between them is a single Greek word found over 30 times in the New Testament and seven times in the Book of Revelation alone, a term that has been widely interpreted and perhaps often misunderstood. The word is hypomon?, often translated as “patience,” but more accurately as “endurance.” Sometimes it is expanded a bit to mean “patient endurance.”
In Luke’s gospel, after describing the ordeals of the end times, Jesus reminds his hearers that “By your [patient] endurance [hupomoné] you will save your souls [Luke 21:19]. Or possibly, you will save your lives. And in the Book of Revelation, for instance, we hear commended “the endurance [hupomoné] of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” [Rev 14:12]. Oddly and regrettably enough, this verse was skipped over in yesterday’s selection from Revelation. But the message is clear enough, and today’s reading celebrates the triumph of those who hold out to the end.
But what is patient endurance? It certainly does not mean passivity in the face of injustice. Fundamentally, it means active but non-violent resistance to evil. Or as the scripture scholar David Bauckham has it, “Resist—but by witness and suffering, not by violence.” In early Christian writings, the word was used for Jesus himself, who, as St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to St. Polycarp, “who endured in every way for us” (Polycarp, 3:2).
The message we can take away from today’s readings, as the liturgical year draws to its close, is clear: it is not my might or power or violence that we will preserve our souls, but by adherence to the Word of God and faithful resistance to evil in all its many forms.