Blessed Are the Persecuted

Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of justice: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. —Matthew 5:10

I guess we should not be surprised that this Beatitude follows the previous ones. The first and last Beatitudes are present tense: Theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Until this statement, Jesus has said “happy are the . . .,” speaking generally. Now he says happy are “those of you. . . .” Very likely Matthew is conveying that this scene is happening directly in front of Jesus. His small community is being persecuted, and Jesus tells them to “rejoice and be glad”! Persecution for the cause of justice is inevitable. Instead of seeking to blame someone for their well-earned scars, he is telling them two clear things: You can be happy—and you can be happy now!

Matthew 5:11-12 could really be called the ninth Beatitude, although it more likely is an explanation of the eighth:

Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of things against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.

The disciples’ response is a prophetic action itself. To live joyfully amid misunderstanding and slander points beyond “my kingdom” to the Kingdom of God. Goodness can never be attacked directly; the messengers or the motivation must be discredited.

Luke’s Gospel presents the same message in the opposite form: “Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Too much praise is probably an indication that it is not the full Gospel. In either case, Jesus himself clearly knew that his teaching would turn conventional values on their head.

“Bad” people didn’t kill Jesus; conventional wisdom crucified him. Jesus taught an alternative wisdom instead of the maintenance of social order. Prophets and wisdom teachers like Jesus have passed through a major death to their ego. This is the core meaning of transformation. Yet most of Christian history tried to understand Jesus inside the earlier stage of law and order. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is anything but maintaining the status quo!

Theologian Marcus Borg (1942-2015) wrote:

The gospel of Jesus—the good news of Jesus’ own message—is that there is a way of being that moves beyond both secular and religious conventional wisdom. The path of transformation of which Jesus spoke leads from a life of requirements and measuring up (whether to culture or to God) to a life of relationship with God. It leads from a life of anxiety to a life of peace and trust. It leads from the bondage of self-preoccupation to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It leads from life centered in culture to life centered in God. [1]

Richard Rohr

[1] Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith (HarperSanFrancisco: 1994), 88.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 141, 142;
Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1991), CD; and
Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), CDMP3 download.

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