Blessed are those Persecuted for Righteousness

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from November 19, 2017, reflecting on the eighth Beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount:

And here’s a written excerpt, summarizing some thoughts on the Beatitudes and suggesting what Jesus meant by this concluding one:

This is the last of Jesus’ eight Beatitudes, and we’ve learned a lot on our journey through these holy blessings of Jesus.

We’ve learned that these Beatitudes are indeed divine blessings, pronounced by Jesus as from God.

We’ve learned that the “blessing” that Jesus promises includes both the ideas of “divine favour” and “human flourishing.” In other words, the “blessed” are those who are favoured by God—God has a certain preference for them, God is “especially fond” of them. And the “blessed” experience the flourishing life that God desires for humanity—they experience a measure of that now, the fulness of it in the fulness of time.

We’ve learned, then, that the “blessings” that are pronounced in the Beatitudes take the long view: they are already here, but they’re not fully here, and it may take generations to see them fully realized. And we’ve learned, too, that often the first part of the Beatitude is the way God gives for us to realize the second: we experience God’s kingdom by being poor in spirit, we inherit the earth by being meek, we receive mercy by being merciful, and so on.

All this has helped us to walk through the Beatitudes, to hear what Jesus wants to say to us through them. And so, as we’ve heard our Lord teach us through these Beatitudes, we’ve been both encouraged and challenged, both invited to rest in God’s grace and exhorted to take up our cross. This tension, this balance, between divine mercy and divine demand, is at the heart of the Beatitudes. Really, it’s at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. It’s at the heart of the Christian life.

We’ve also learned a few other things that help us hear this final Beatitude well. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” this Beatitude promises—just like the first one. By ending these blessings the same way they began, Jesus is pointing us to this as the underlying promise that undergirds them all: the “kingdom of heaven.”

This “kingdom of heaven,” you might remember, isn’t about a “kingdom up in heaven,” or a “kingdom that is heaven.” It’s a “kingdom from heaven,” come down to earth. That is, after all what Jesus teaches his disciples in prayer in the very next chapter: we are to pray for “God’s kingdom to come, God’s will to be done, on earth as in heaven.”

The “kingdom of heaven,” then, is God’s reign of justice, peace, and flourishing life for all, come from heaven to earth. It’s what happens when God’s will is finally and fully done. It’s what happens when God’s dream for the world—all peoples, even all creation—becomes reality.

This is the promise that undergirds all of these Beatitudes. This is, in fact, the promise that undergirds the whole Sermon on the Mount, and all Jesus’ teachings: God’s reign of justice, peace, and flourishing life for all, come from heaven to earth.

We’ve also come across the word “righteousness” before. Remember that one? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” You might recall that “righteousness” in the Bible doesn’t mean “being right” or “believing the right things.” It means “doing the right thing,” even “doing right by others,” even “making wrongs right.” In other words, “righteousness” looks very much like “justice.”

With all this in view, we’re now able to hear Jesus’ final Beatitude: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

All those who are “persecuted”—who are aggressively opposed, even cruelly, even violently opposed—

for “righteousness”—for doing right by others, for making wrongs right in our world, for pursuing justice—

these are “blessed” by God—they have God’s favour, and they will one day experience full flourishing as God intended.

In other words, theirs is “the kingdom of heaven”—God’s radical vision become reality, of a world formed in justice, filled with peace, and spilling over with abundant life.

Or, to get at this from the other angle:

if we take seriously the “blessed way” Jesus has been describing—being lowly in spirit, mourning with all who suffer, walking in gentleness, pursuing justice for all, showing mercy to all, seeking the purity of love, striving to build peace through peace—

then we will experience opposition—aggressive, cruel, perhaps even violent opposition. Just like Jesus did.

But—just like Jesus did—we can rest in the blessing of God, knowing that God’s favour is on us and God is working for our good, even the greatest good of all people and all creation.

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