“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
At first this seems out of place amongst the other characteristics that Jesus envisions in the Christian:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
The first seven are those qualities that grow from within. This new one is something that is imposed from without. The truth is, though, and particularly as it follows the one that refers to peacemakers, that there will be some people who will refuse to live in peace with the Christians. In fact, they may purposefully oppose them.
The Christian may be persecuted not because of some over-zealous or anti-social behaviour on their part but because they are a certain type of person and, therefore, behave in a certain way. These ways are described in the first seven beatitudes. It is worth noticing in this regard that the first and the eighth beatitude both contain the same promise – ‘for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ It was as if Jesus were keen to impress upon His disciples that membership of the kingdom was of prime importance – a truth He would more clearly state towards the end of the Sermon,
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
The Christians, if they are to be persecuted at all, should suffer it not because of their own sins or shortcomings but ‘because of righteousness’ – the righteousness for which they hunger and thirst. That means that they will live to a different standard and with different values to the rest of the world. Like Christ who is their model and example the light of their lives and living will show up the darkness and difference in the world around them – and may cause a reaction. The sad truth is that, as with Jesus, the people involved may be those who appear to be within the Church as well as those who are without. It is so natural a consequence in the world in which we live that Dietrich Bonhoeffer would write,
‘Suffering is the badge of true discipleship.’
The Christian filled with the Spirit of God cannot be luke-warm about his or her faith and relationship with Christ. Such will be the impact of that revelation and relationship that their lives will be transformed. They will increasingly see their own natural spiritual poverty; they will mourn over their sins and shortcomings – and the sin and suffering that they see around them; they will have no place in their lives for pride, arrogance or self-satisfaction and so will not look down upon others; they will long passionately for God’s love, life, healing and right rule to be released into the world; they will increasingly have mercy on those who sin and suffer, and themselves seek to be undivided in their relationship with, and attitude and response to, God.
Although it may seem daunting to the Christian persecution is not something that they deliberately seek. If and when it happens they have the great promise of Jesus to be with them and the empowering and inspiring presence of the Holy Spirit within. Such may their awareness of Them grow at the time that, like the apostles before them, they come to rejoice that they have been counted worthy to suffer ‘on My account.’
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41)
May God be glorified in me and through me. Do not fear – you will always receive what you need from God.
Dear Lord, please help me to be Your disciple and the reflection of Your great Light. Amen.