“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”” I’ve combined the last two Beatitudes because they are mirroring the same reaction of the world to the truth being told and exemplified. The 8th Beatitude builds on the 4th one: those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. With this deep desire for righteousness, for being in the right relationship to God and His stands on justice and righteousness, any persecution becomes just like a person swatting flies that are annoying. They are a part of the territory, but only an annoyance.
Look at Paul celebrating his trials. And the other disciples. And martyrs throughout the Christian era. Take Cyprian who was a bishop of Carthage in the mid-300’s A.D. A decree went out from the Roman Emperor, Valerian, that those who would not bow to the emperor and worship the Roman gods were to be killed. The local Roman governor was reluctant to kill one of his class, but Cyprian refused to bow to the emperor and insisted that his execution happen. He led his followers out to the hillside where the executions took place. He insisted that they tip the executioner, because he was only doing his job. He stretched out his hands to be tied. He stretched his neck so the executioner could easily strike him. Because of his martyrdom thousands were converted on the spot.
“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven!” They live under the rule of God, no longer bound in any way by the world’s influence. They have found their true home. Neil Douglas-Klotz writes that “Jesus presents a realistic picture of what his hearers probably already knew; society does not easily tolerate the prophetic spirit and one is likely to run into opposition. Jesus does not, however, either commiserate with us or incite us to seek suffering. He places the reactiveness of society within a cosmic context: if you are dislocated for justice, consider your new home to be the planet—or the universe. [i.e. the kingdom of God] ’Consider adversity as an incitement to take another step’ seems to be both the message and the body prayer of these final Beatitudes.”
There is an attitude in these stories of not even thinking of the consequences of any action, because there is such complete trust in Christ to settle all problems, to meet all needs, to always be present. Paul boasts of his sufferings in the passage cited above. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazi’s just before the Allies liberated his concentration camp converted many guards, wrote books and generally kept his head about him. Filled with the Holy Spirit all the martyrs were single-minded about pursuing their calling from God, unfazed by any harassment or even death.
Cynthia Bourgeault writes that “Jesus is not talking about martyrdom here, but about freedom.“ That freedom is the freedom from fear of any harm done to them, freedom from fear of death. And when we are free from fear of any kind, we are fully alive, fully functional, fully given over to God.
What sounds like a horror to our world actually would be so freeing for us because we are no longer bound to this world and all it holds dear. We can barely imagine how we could stand in Christ’s stead, and survive. But the question is not about whether we could survive, but who is our god, the world or Christ himself? If we are only beholden to Christ then there is no conflict in us no matter what we might suffer. Our eyes are on the prize, on Christ Himself. Nothing else matters…at all. “Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake” “walk forth,” blessed in the knowledge that theirs is the kingdom of heaven; great are their rewards there.
Questions to ponder over the week: What do these martyrs have to teach me? Have I given myself fully over to Christ? Or am I holding back parts of myself so that I don’t have to come face to face with anything approaching martyrdom? Am I living out of fear or faith? Do I care what happens to me when I am in Christ’s arms, doing His work?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who are totally dedicated to doing His will. May we throw caution to the wind as we follow His lead. May we not hesitate to serve Him.
An Invitation to All of Us to Pray for our nation: for mercy and compassion for all, for community values and a deep sense of caring for each other. For peace. For love to reign. For a return to a love of God. For us to have“one nation under God” as our motto again. If many of us would pray these things for our country, we could change the world. Invite your friends and neighbors to pray with us. in love and faith, Pat
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 2 Corinthians 11:16ff
 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyprian under the heading Persecution under Valerian
 Neil Douglas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections on the Original Meaning of Jesus’s Words, HarperOne, NY, 1990, p. 69
 Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus, Shambhala, Boston MA, 2008, p. 46