The word translated as “Blessed” with which each Beatitudes begans, seems to be a promise of things to come. But the word is better translated as “O the bliss...” Bliss is a word that properly belongs only to the gods. Yet, Jesus is stating that it is his followers’ now. As William Barclay says, “...The Beatitudes are not promises of future happiness...they are affirmations of the bliss into which the Christian can enter here and now.”
Today’s Beatitude: The Bliss of the Martyr’s Pain
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when you are reviled and persecuted, and have evil spoken against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be very glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so they persecuted the prophets before you. Matt 5:10-12
In the early Church, the word for witness and the word for martyr were the same Greek word, martus. Originally used only for witness, the time came when those who witnessed to the faith were often killed or martyred. Very early on, persecution was inevitable. A follower might not be killed, but they were often ostracized. Not until the 4th century was it really safe to be a Christian.
Persecution was carried out simply because Christians were different. They didn’t conform to the cultural standards and practices. In a time when conformity was highly prized, non-conformists disrupted the peace of the city or kingdom. Christians had a different moral standard. A simple example or two will make this clear. Since pagan meals began with a prayer to a pagan god and some kind of small offering, Christians couldn’t participate. That made them look rude and discourteous. Christians were encouraged to avoid teaching as a profession because it required teaching about the pagan gods. They couldn’t make incense because it might be used in pagan temples. The list goes on.
Christians were misunderstood. Their worship which excluded the unbaptized when the Eucharist began, was described as lewd orgies (because of the kiss of peace they exchanged), cannablistic meals, and child killing. But most of all, they were accused of being atheists because they wouldn’t worship pagan gods, and the supreme insult, they wouldn’t worship the emperor.
Christians came to believe that while persecution brings pain and suffering in the present, in the end, staying faithful brings satisfaction and peace to the soul. The First Letter of Peter includes the idea that to suffer for the faith is to share in the suffering of Christ. The ultimate reward for the pain and suffering is clear: union with Christ and participation in the glory to come.
With all this in mind, we can restate the Beatitude this way: Oh the bliss of those whose demonstration of faith is so great as to bring persecution upon themselves simply by being faithful. They shall live with God.
This is my final post as Theologian In Residence. I’ve enjoyed our two years together, but that time has come to an end. I will continue to post on a personal blog on a variety of topics, that generally speaking, will touch on the intercession of faith and life. The blog address is www.JerryLHarber.blogspot.com and is titled Stuff I’m Thinking. To receive an email when I post, please go to that blog and type your email address in the box Follow By Email. I hope you’ll give it a try.