THE SCRIPTURES ENCOURAGE us to boast in the cross, glorifying the saving work of Christ who gave up His life on it. During this feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the Church also reminds us of Christ’s warning to those who may be ashamed of Him and of what He has done. The Lord’s words are uncompromising: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
Why would someone – presumably a believer – be ashamed of Christ, the Lover of Mankind and the Savior of our souls? Over the centuries there have been several reasons why some Christians have been reluctant to confess their faith in Christ.
A Common Criminal
The Jewish people at the time of Christ who were waiting for the Messiah pictured him as a victorious warrior who would triumph over the enemies of Israel and restore their nation’s independence. The Messiah, it was believed, would be a figure like David who would restore David’s kingdom. Many felt that the Messiah would gather the scattered Jews from the four corners of the earth, restore the full observance of the Torah, and bring peace to the whole world.
Jesus did not overthrow the Roman Empire or reestablish David’s kingdom. If anything, He was a seemingly defeated wandering preacher who had been put to death in the most humiliating manner and had no effect on the fortunes of Israel. The Messiah was expected to triumph; Jesus had apparently failed.
Presenting Jesus as the Messiah who defeated, not Rome, but sin and Death, would have invited scorn from many of the apostles’ hearers. They became even more scornful when St Paul, the chief spokesman for Christ was himself captured and imprisoned. As Paul wrote from prison to his disciple Timothy, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or about me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” St Paul insisted, “this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:8:11).
Afraid of Persecution
Fear for one’s life has caused many believers to abandon Christ, beginning with His most intimate followers. All the disciples abandoned Him when He was arrested. Peter, who followed at a distance, explicitly denied knowing Him, when accused of being one of His followers.
Beginning with the arrest of the Protomartyr St Stephen and the killing of the Apostle James in Jerusalem up to our own day, Christians have often been forced to choose between being faithful to Christ and saving their own lives. At the start of the second century, St Ignatius of Antioch expressed the feelings of many who believed that denying Christ was simply not an option for them: “No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire” (To the Romans, 4).
A recent – and ongoing – example of the persecution of Christians has taken place in the Middle East at the hands of radical Islamic groups such as ISIS. Nonetheless, many Christians there are publicly proclaiming their allegiance to Christ despite the danger. An Australian observer on the scene, Steven Kryger, writes of his reaction: “In the heartland of violent anti-Christian extremism, I was confronted with how openly and unashamedly Christians are displaying their allegiance to Jesus. Crosses are everywhere. They dangle from rear view mirrors. They hang on bracelets around wrists. They stand tall, fixed to the top of houses.
I encountered the most striking example on my second day. Less than 14km from the merciless armies of ISIS, I drove past a house that was painted inside and out with a mural of Jesus! That’s right – just minutes from people who wouldn’t think twice about burning them alive, Christians were proudly choosing to communicate “I am with Him.”
I felt ashamed. I realized that while as a Christian in Australia I am at greater risk of being killed by a falling coconut than I am by an extremist, I am nowhere near this willing to be aligned with Jesus on a daily basis. In fact, outside of my time at church or with other Christians during the week, my words and actions (or lack of both) often don’t declare ‘I’m proud to be with Him.’”
Ashamed of What Others May Say
In our society, overt persecution of Christians is still rare, although some think that is changing. Still, we often find ourselves reluctant to publicly express our faith, even in non-verbal ways. In some neighborhoods it is common to see religious images displayed on one’s door or lawn. In other neighborhoods, Christians might be reluctant to identify themselves as Christian in that way.
In some areas Greek-owned diners can often be identified by the icon hanging over the manager’s counter. Would I feel comfortable about placing an icon on my desk or in my place of business or do I fear people labeling me as a “holy roller”?
Some Christians, who regular say a blessing before meals at home would not think of doing so when eating in a restaurant, even with other Christians. Others would be uncomfortable reading from a Bible or prayer book in a public place. Are these not examples of being ashamed of Christ?
It is not unusual for a Christian to find himself in the company of people who regularly use the Lord’s name in vain, despite the Commandment which identifies this as wrong. Some Christians would politely ask that such a person refrain from doing so. Others would be reluctant to say anything. Who wants to be thought of as a goody two shoes”?
In Mark’s Gospel quoted above, the Lord warns against being ashamed of His words in an adulterous and sinful generation. Some Christians, who are convinced that certain issues of public policy violate the Gospel, are nevertheless unwilling to express their convictions to others.
None of the practices described here are commanded by Christ in the Gospels. Does that mean that reluctance to publicly express our faith should be ignored. As Steven Kryger, quoted above, suggests: “Our brothers and sisters in Iraq don’t have to display the cross in their cars, from their balconies, or on their wrists. They don’t have to paint the ‘Nazarene’ sign on their front doors. And in fact, given the risks of doing so, we would be quick to forgive them for keeping a low profile.
“But they choose to do these things.
“For them, being unashamed is so much more than standing firm on the day that ISIS arrive and demand to know if they follow Jesus. They choose to adopt these daily, public demonstrations of faith because they love Jesus and they are not ashamed or afraid to make this known.”