God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.Matthew 5:10-12
“Blessed are the persecuted” is the most difficult Beatitude to talk about because of the way that it can be spun. When looking for a picture to illustrate this Lenten meditation, it was hard to find one that did not attempt to convey that unless one gets everything s/he wants in a religious sense, they are being persecuted.
However, it is hard to say that the 21st-century church, in America, is being persecuted. Especially when you see someone like Raphael Warnock, a Christian pastor, serving as a senator in the US Senate with distinction. Testifying publically on many occasions to his faith in Christ. I do not include the ways he and others suffer for being a particular race.
Jesus equates persecution in this text directly to following him and espousing his values. Jeanne DeCelles said that Jesus’ downfall came from “challenging the systems of his society. He challenged the cornerstones like Madison Avenue, Wall Street, and the Pentagon.” Following the Call, page 72.
The litmus test for discipleship is to attempt to read, understand, and live by the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ premier speech about what following him means. The sermon leads one into living righteously, and righteousness is very threatening to our world. Attack greed and see what happens. Or stick up for the poor, the ill, the diseased, and the imprisoned and see what happens. Ask people to give generously of their wealth and see what happens. Speak up for the rights of ALL people and watch the reaction.
Being persecuted for righteousness’ sake means speaking against racism or sexually charged marketing or greed and exploitation and speaking out will, in this day, cause you to be persecuted in some quarters. Ironically, even Christians may persecute you.
Conversely, demanding your right to have a great book like To Kill a Mockingbird removed from library shelves and then receiving pushback, is not persecution. Persecution is directly linked to Jesus and his teaching. The Sermon on the Mount is a good place to go to understand where following Jesus leads you and also whether you are willing to face the resulting persecution.
Prayer: God of righteousness, we pray for greater courage. Help us to see clearly to what you are calling us and to what you are NOT calling us. May we be willing to follow you, no matter where it leads. Help us to not give in to the world’s values. In Jesus’ name. Amen.