vv 36-37 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.
In yesterday’s reading we found Paul expecting an apology for being mistreated. He had been wrongly imprisoned and his rights as a Roman citizen had been infringed. Is demanding our ‘rights’ always appropriate?
There is a whole industry of ‘Human Rights’. Politicians, lawyers, immigration officials, Trades Unions, and many others too, work hard to try to ensure fair play in society. Most of us have a great deal of sympathy for that. If we were on the receiving end of injustice we would be glad to have someone who would speak up for us. But let’s ask the question again: Is demanding our ‘rights’ always appropriate? Are there times when it might be better to ignore our rights and learn patiently to accept what God allows – particularly when the perceived injustice arises from our stand in society for God?
Jesus had already raised that issue earlier in His teaching to the disciples. Think back to vv 11-12 in this chapter where Jesus says ‘God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. ‘ And this chapter in Hebrews is all about people of faith who did not stand on their rights but accepted that there was a price to pay for being loyal in following God’s way.
It is right to fight for the rights of others (think modern slavery), but it just might not be appropriate always to make a fuss about our personal rights. We should never become self-made martyrs in the face of injustice, but nor should we become hysterical objectors when others poke fun at our faith. A long line of prophets and Christian martyrs bear witness to the power of both speech and silence.