Read Matthew 5:10
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NRSV)
Jesus, having given a series of blessings to people who were normally not considered by society to be blessed, bookends his series of beatitudes with, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:10 NRSV). The New Living Translation puts it in what I think captures the heart of what Jesus is saying, “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing what is right.” In other words, in the eschatological plan of God, in God’s end times plan, those who stand up for what is right and who do the right thing at great cost to themselves, will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is important to note that this particular beatitude seems to have been written by Matthew himself as away of coming full circle in Jesus beatitudes. I am not suggesting that Matthew fabricated it, or that it doesn’t represent what Matthew believes Jesus was saying. Quite the contrary. Matthew uses this particular Beatitude as a literary device to bring Jesus’ beatitudes right back to where they started. This particular “beatitude” is not found anywhere else in the Gospels, and it is not to be confused on what Jesus says regarding persecution as a whole in the following two verses as well as in Luke 6:22
What’s more not only does it nicely bookend the beatitudes in between it and verse 3; however, it also ties directly into what is to follow about persecution itself, and how Christ’s followers should react to persecution. Christ’s teaching on persecution as a whole, and what his followers’ repsonse should be to it can be found in both Matthew and Luke.
So often, when we read this blessing we tend to read it in one of two ways. We will either read Jesus as saying, “Blessed are those who are oppressed and persectued, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Or, if we don’t read it that way, we read it in the following way, “Blessed are those who are oppressed and persecuted because they are Christians, for theirs is Kingdom of Heaven.” Both ways of reading it are not entirely wrong as it is true that Jesus teaches that in the Kingdom of Heaven puts a special emphasis on those who are “the least of these” by society in this current age. It is also true that Jesus does say that those who are persecuted for following him are blessed as well; however, Matthew 5:10, though certainly related, does not explicitly say those things at all.
What it does say explicitly is the following: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing what is right, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Notice, Jesus doesn’t put any stipulations on that. He doesn’t define who, where, what, when or how that comes about. Does Jesus mean that anyone who stands up for what’s right possesses the Kingdom of Heaven? What if they are not Jewish (in Jesus’ context), or what if they are not Christian (in our context)? What if they are not one of us, what if they are from Samaria (in Jesus’ context), or what if they are from Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Russia, etc. (in our context)? Also, what if their “right” is in opposition to our own thoughts, beliefs, actions, etc.?
Jesus does not specify any of that. He does not put restrictions of that statement whatsoever; rather, he simply states, “God blesses those who do what is right, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Of course, as we discussed earlier on in this series, “righteousness” or “doing what is right”, really amounts to doing justice, living justly, and standing up for justice. Those who do so will certainly be attacked by those who are in support of injustice (whether they realize it is injust or not).
And to tie it back to Jesus first blessing of the “poor in spirit”, they are not defined by religion, race, geographical location, or any other thing that we divide ourselves with; rather, they are defined by three things: living justly/seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Anyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from, who seeks and strives to live that out in their lives possess the Kingdom of Heaven, both now within them as well as when that Kingdom is fully realized here on Earth. This is what Jesus is telling us. Even if you are persecuted now for doing what is right, the reward that follows will certainly be well worth the persecution. I pray we all open our hearts to, and define our lives, by that very truth.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (1 Peter 2:20 NRSV)
PRAYER Lord, strengthen me to do what is right, even in the face of persecution. Amen.