Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness/justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
Blessed are YOU, when when people revile you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11)
Eight Beatitudes were spoken in the third person plural – Blessed are they…
Finally Jesus turns to his own, Blessed are you…!
It seems that Jesus addresses all humanity in the eight beatitudes: Blessed is anyone who is poor in spirit, meek, who mourns, who yearns for justice, who is merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker, and persecuted for the cause of justice. ANYONE!
But then, Blessed are YOU when you are hated and persecuted for what…. For HIS sake, for Jesus’ sake. This is the unique persecution that only followers of Jesus will experience. Anyone can be persecuted for justice, for working against injustice; not only Christians. But Christians will be persecuted and have been persecuted for their faith in Christ.
And so what? Why are they blessed? Because “great is your reward in heaven.” Notice – and I have to make clear that this is my own interpretation, and I could be wrong or stretching things, but here goes: Blessed is anyone who is persecuted for justice and righteousness – theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Christian also receives the kingdom of heaven – but the ‘reward’ is great if the Christian is persecuted for the sake of Christ.
This is not an encouragement to seek martyrdom. Jesus did not tell his followers to become jihadists. Jesus is not telling his followers to go and get killed so they would have 72 virgins in heaven. He is saying that following Jesus can make others hate you and persecute you – but great is your reward in heaven. St. Paul gives the same message today in his letter to Timothy: “Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.”
What is the great reward for those who are persecuted for the sake of Jesus? We’re not told. But Heaven is the great reversal of what happens here in our earthly lives. That’s why Jesus often said the first will be last and the last will be first. Heaven is the healing place. There is sickness in the world – hatred, selfishness, envy, bigotry, murder, economic and social injustice, suffering, political persecution, war, terrorism, too many walls and not enough bridges between human beings. Justice, righteousness, mercy, Jesus! These are the healing words – and they represent the kingdom of heaven.
Notice something else. We started with poor in spirit – and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We finish with the persecuted – and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. I had never noticed this before but there is a mirror imaging of the promises that Jesus makes in these beatitudes, especially when read in Greek:
1st & 8th – kingdom of heaven
2nd & 7th – παρακληθήσονται and κληθήσονται – future passive
3rd & 6th – κληρονομήσουσι and ὄψονται – future active/middle
4th & 5th – χορτασθήσονται and ἐλεηθήσονται – future passive
I’m not sure there is any significance to this arrangement, but it is clearly Matthew’s arrangement of Jesus’s words, and there is a certain poetic balance. And perhaps the healing sound of those verbs that are bookended by the kingdom of heaven is the real message of the Beatitudes. Healing is the message of Jesus throughout the gospels. Healing is his message to us – and the challenge to us. Healers are the poor in spirit, even when they are persecuted. And they are meek, and they mourn, and they hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice, and they are merciful, and pure in heart and peacemakers. Healing healers – followers of and inspired by the Great Healer himself. This is the message that is most urgently needed today. Christianity is more relevant, more needed today than it has ever been in history. Are we up to the challenge? Are we a people of the Beatitudes?