The final beatitude is one which as white, middle-class American I don’t think I can have an opinion. Yet I think it is worth exploring because it really gets at the problem of comfortable, middle class American Christianity.
So to begin, a few words on persecution:
First of all, persecution is something which is alive and well in the global church. I highly recommend taking a quick look at this post, outlining places in the world where persecution is happening. It also has a link to an event this Sunday and next asking Christians to pause and recognize the horrors Christians daily.
I have friends who either come from these places or their families live there. I have no categories for what is happening in these places. All I can do is be aware and pray.
And when we recognize the realities of persecution like this in the world, we have to be honest about the ways we name certain things as “persecution” in America that really isn’t. We need to be careful what we label as persecution.
First, persecution is not that same as political disagreement. Nero burned Christians alive to light dinner parties.There are no political candidates or agenda which will re-institutionalize this. So let’s remove the word from the political arena.
Second, persecution is not a reaction by someone else because you were a jerk about your faith. Sometimes I think in an effort to be Christians who are “persecuted” we think we need to get louder and more obnoxious so people will like us less. That is you being a jerk and suffering the consequences. It is not persecution.
I think we invent false persecution sometimes because there is an implicit awareness that it is pretty easy to be a Christian in middle-class America. The message of Jesus is to take up our cross and follow him. But the message of middle-class American Christianity is that we can be comfortable, avoid suffering, have a certain standard of living, and still make it into heaven.
So when we encounter a verse on persecution or we see stories like the ones linked above, we are not quite sure what to do with it. And it’s location within the Beatitudes is even more troubling.
The Beatitudes are about seeing life in a whole new way. So the way we want them to end is: If you see life in this new way, you will be happy and comfortable and get into heaven. But the big payoff of the Beatitudes is: persecution.
The ways of Jesus are not about comfort and getting everything you want out of life. Which is why we had to start the series by redefining blessing.
The Beatitudes are helping you enter into a new kind of life. And after all we have been through: Redefining blessing, finding God at the end of ourselves, submitting ourselves to God, showing mercy, making peace, these things change who we are. We are no longer just seeing the world in a whole new way. We are being in the world in a whole new way.
And when we enter in to this kind of life, we have the kind of inner strength that can not only endure suffering, but can endure suffering for the sake of someone else.
And I use the phrase “inner strength” intentionally. Normally when you hear this phrase it is wrapped up in self-help, shallow, and limp speech about how to be comfortable, happy, and endure the banality of life. But let’s look at how Jesus defines inner strength:
“Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him.
Inner strength is not our own. Inner strength is relying on a power beyond ourselves. It is being able to do more and persevere because God is with us, for us, and on our side. Which is what the Beatitudes are all about. Inner strength training. Reliance on the Spirit. God being with you in all places and all circumstances.
Life is difficult. Try as we may to avoid discomfort or suffering, it still happens. We live in a fallen world.
But the Beatitudes are not trying to help us escape the world, they are helping us build resilience, so we can partner with God to make the world a better place. They our building our inner strength so that we can not only endure suffering, but we can begin to TAKE ON suffering.
Resilience is the strength to endure. But the Beatitudes invite us to go one step further. We engage and enter into pain for the sake of others, and to expand the Kingdom of God in a dark world.
Which sounds a lot like Jesus, and looks a lot like the cross.
I may not have categories for persecution, but I want to be the kind of person who relies on God so much, I am able to enter into the suffering of others. I am not there yet, but I trust that God is working and moving as I make feeble attempts forward.
May we have the courage to align ourselves with the vision of life Jesus presents in these wonderful statements of blessing.