Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus started out his inaugural sermon in Matthew’s retelling with a promise that those we know as poor are the ones who possess the kingdom of heaven. The crowd immediately knew that this was a different type of teacher than they had grown accustomed to hearing.
We might describe this difference today as iconoclastic, revolutionary or authoritative, and Jesus’ teaching certainly fit into these categories. There was something more, however, to the teachings of God in the flesh, something more that set him apart. His words are imaginative. They are bold and compelling.
The words of God in the flesh might even accurately be termed as playful. Perhaps that is the best way to describe blessings directed toward mourners, meek, hungry, merciful, pure-hearted and the peace-seeking. Jesus was immediately distinguishable from the teachers of his- or any- day in that he saw something completely different than the rest of us would when he looked at the world.
This pronouncement of blessing and promise to those who are persecuted for righteousness serves as a linguistic bookmark. It mirrors his opening line, setting the poor in spirit alongside those who would be persecuted for righteousness. Both have risked much; both are promised more than they could ever have imagined.
The word “righteousness” has taken a beating over the years. Wars have been waged in the name of righteousness. Inquisitions have been held to separate the righteous and the wicked. Witch hunts have been conducted to identify and eliminate the “unrighteous.” In our time, angry pastors and impatient church leaders have railed against one another in the name of righteousness.
For the sake of preserving the “righteousness” of our communities, certain people are excluded from fellowship and leadership.
Perhaps we may apply the words of Jesus to those who have been victims of the righteousness of the righteous. Perhaps persecution for the sake of righteousness has taken on an alternate meaning. Could it be that this blessing could be applied to those on the margins of our communities?
The history of the church speaks over and over of our failure to love those with whom we disagree. Could Jesus have these victims of our pursuit of righteousness in his mind as he spoke these words? Is there space in our theology- in which we are right to pursue truth- to bless those with whom we disagree?
It would be just like Jesus, after all, to playfully bless whomever he pleased.
Photo: Guard the Deposit