“blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – matthew 5:10
well, it takes me a while sometimes to finish what i started, but i always finish! this is the last in the series on the beatitudes. you can check out the other links below. i often say i love the beatitudes. and i hate the beatitudes. because they are painfully challenging. in a world that cries for upward mobility & comfortable & predictable, the beatitudes are a call down, into the places that are uncomfortable, messy, and unpredictable in the human experience. they point to humility when our human tendency is toward pride & control.
but they are also a pathway to peace. a better way. a more deep & satisfying way.
when i was in my zealous conservative christian days i remember talking a lot about being “persecuted” for my beliefs by my family & others who didn’t agree with me. i am not saying that persecution isn’t real–there are scores of people around the world being truly persecuted–even losing their lives–for standing in their christian faith and i don’t want to diminish that in the slightest. but when i look back at my “persecution”, um, i wouldn’t call it that. i’d call it people-being-annoyed-with-me-for-being-annoying.
the actual word for persecution in the bible means “to be mistreated on account of something, to pursue in hostile manner, harass, or trouble.” to me, it means that we will be mocked, criticized, cast-out, and sometimes even hunted-down by people who strongly don’t agree with us. like most of you, i definitely don’t want to be persecuted. it stinks to be mistreated & cast out & mocked & criticized.
but something has shifted inside of me in the past several years where i have come to realize that standing on behalf of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized is far more important than making sure everyone likes me. i think that’s what Jesus is saying in this beatitude: when we do these things–when we give up power, when we lose our lives, when we care about mercy, justice, love more than anything else–we are going to somehow be cast out. like Jesus experienced when he started mixing it up, people will not know what to do with us. they won’t like us rocking the status quo and calling out injustice. they won’t like us taking a stand. they won’t like us not playing by their rules anymore.
more people liked me when i played nicer. they really did. i was easier to be around because i towed the line well. but i keep learning along the way that nothing changes in this world by towing the line, following the herd and just sticking with the ninety-nine. to me, the ninety-nine is the “system” that leans toward the powerful and pretty and keeps those with resource & power safe and comfortable. Jesus modeled leaving the ninety-nine to go find the one (this is one of my favorite blog posts & is in down we go). and when we follow Jesus’ lead–toward the fringes–we are heading toward the same path he did–persecution. we will most likely never hang on a cross, but we will pay a price. the ninety-nine don’t like people messing with the system because it’s working for them. but there are an awful lot of one’s out there who need us to advocate, to stop, to listen, to vote on their behalf, to use our power on their behalf, to tangibly love.
and to pay the price for it.
we may lose our reputations, our jobs, churches, money, comfort, relationships-with-people-who-don’t-understand-us-anymore, and a host of other things. but in the end, i do believe Jesus is reminding us here in this passage that it’s worth it. because to gain our lives we have to lose them. because there’s no greater love than laying down our lives for our friends. because this life is not about ease & comfort & feeling good & knowing correct doctrine & sticking with the ninety-nine. rather, it’s about being Jesus in the flesh and offering hope and redemption in a dark, broken, and tipped-toward-the-powerful world.
God, help us be people who are willing to be persecuted for living out your wild, counter-to-the-world ways. you tell us we’ll be blessed when we do. may we see that blessing doesn’t come in the form of more money, status, or power, but rather in the deep, rich knowing that your love, mercy & justice is being reflected through us in small and big ways.
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other posts in this series: