“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich.
Θλῖψις (thlipsis, say that three times fast) is not a common word in Greek literature. It shows up in medical writing as a term for physical pressure, before it is used to describe metaphorical “pressures,” or “oppressions.” In a treatise linked to the philosopher Aristotle and his school (the “Problems”), for example, the author explains how the application of “pressure” (θλῖψις) causes bruising and swelling.
Discomfort. Inconvenience. Awkwardness. We try to minimize these feelings as a church. We want all who join our community to feel at ease and welcome. But, as of late, we have all been struggling under an unrelenting pressure: masks are uncomfortable; maintaining social distance is inconvenient; enforcing new rules is awkward. We see other faith communities making different decisions and wonder if we’re getting it right. Welcome to the reality of living in a time of persecution, or what John calls Θλῖψις, thlipsis. Now, let’s not leap to the more gory stories of martyrdom. For many if not most of the Christians receiving John’s letter, the concern was less about being tossed to the lions tomorrow and more about the daily grind of hardship and uncertainty. To follow Jesus meant to refuse to participate in the worship of other gods. As a result, the early Christians were outsiders in their own culture where worship of the Roman emperor and other deities was part of doing business. Christians suffered economically and socially, while living under the real threat of being brought to trial for their faith. Day after day they had to deal with unrelenting pressure, discomfort, and anxiety; Θλῖψις. For John, however, Θλῖψις is not just hardship but also an opportunity to witness to the gospel. Patient endurance under daily discomfort and pressure, proclaims the gospel, then and now as well.
Questions for Reflection
How have you experienced the good news or proclaimed it during this time of unrelenting pressure?
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About the Blog
Journey through the season of Advent with daily updates on the adventures of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Belliacre, MI as they attempt to cobble together a Christmas Pageant with an unlikely cast of characters.
Stephanie is an art educator and a landscape/portrait artist. Her inspirations come from the amazing people she meets and the gorgeous state of Michigan as well as her home state of Florida. She and he husband love nature. They are out in the water during the summer months and on the snow in the winter enjoying the simple pleasures of life.