Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Acts 6: 8-15; 7: 54-60
We come to the holy ground of this eighth beatitude, the one that perhaps is the most difficult to take on board. In fact, the temptation would be to say, “All the others, maybe yes, Lord, but not this!” It seems to be no accident that we reach this one in the season of Lent and Easter. Our doubts and questions fall into the vibrant, overwhelming silence filled with the presence of a God who is not remote but chose to be so near, knowing what it would cost him. This is the God who sweated blood in a garden and earnestly prayed that he would not have to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake that far. This is the God who willingly ‘climbed a hill’ and found there, not acclamation but a cross. This is the God who not only submitted but actually embraced such a way, all for righteousness’ sake, that is for the restoration of right relationships. This is the Blessed One.
And if we are his companions on the way, then we are called to enter the struggle against all those things that seek to damage or destroy right relationships. That is hard. Jesus never said “You’re blessed when you are persecuted.” To be so would be to encourage a masochism that has nothing to do with the Good News. Rather he said, “If your commitment to God provokes persecution, if you are living your belief out loud, no matter what the cost or pain, if you stand for the righteousness that is rooted in the very being of God, then blessed, blessed are you.”
The first and last beatitude carry with them the same promise, “The kingdom of heaven is yours.” The kingdom of heaven is not so much a place as that state of being where we have moved beyond our defensive/offensive ego into a flow of relationship that is characterised by a mutuality of belovedness. And it’s only a shadow of what is up ahead for those who, all else stripped away, have stumbled upon the treasure. In the interim we may find ourselves bonded with companions not necessarily of our natural choosing who along with us have made the decision to be committed to the God of right relationships to such an extent that we are tried like gold in the furnace. It is along this road that Jesus calls us to rejoice – not because of persecution and not when the journey is done, but right now through him, with him and in him. And already the angels and saints, the people of God in every age rejoice, celebrate and urge us on.
Suggestions for Sharing:
- Stephen was the first martyr of the early church. What were some of the direct consequences flowing from his ‘persecution for righteousness’ sake’?
- Can you think of some people in our day who have walked such a road? Is it possible that we could pick up such a mantle?