The Beatitudes illustrate Jesus’ preferred style of teaching. These sayings seemed almost foreign in the religious world of first-century Judaism. In a culture that prized wealth, power, and connections as indicators of God’s blessings, Jesus’ difficult words about what heaven values most must have sounded entirely strange.
The wider Sermon on the Mount in which the Beatitudes are found reinforced that living right sometimes means choosing options that don’t deliver more wealth, power, connections, or comfort. Jesus urged believers to choose heaven’s values over any other value system, secular or religious.
Twenty centuries later, His words remain powerfully
relevant to our lives.
Jesus’ teachings do not lead to greater comfort, at least at first: How can a believer stay “pure in heart” when it appears that money and power often pull strings to sway decisions—even in the name of the gospel? When race, ethnicity, or culture play a more prominent role than telling the good news? How do you live as a peacemaker when those closest to you—perhaps even your own family members—refuse to make peace, when they ignore the conflict, or enable atrocious behavior?
I can’t remember the last time I hungered and thirsted for righteousness. With increasing age, a routine emerges that eats away at my desire to know the gospel and change my life accordingly. Perhaps that’s just it. I know that if I were to hunger and thirst for Jesus’ good news, I would have to change my life—and I like my life the way it is. I don’t want to make the changes called for by His teaching because they might turn my life upside down.
That is surely a formula for gaining my comfort but losing my soul. The attraction of the familiar is so much easier: attend worship and go to religious meetings rather than actually do something in the world and for the world outside of my “church” life.
How should I engage with the world around me? I see
misery, violence, torture—and persecution—all around. How should I relate to the persecution others are experiencing when I am not the one being persecuted?
I’m not comfortable courting persecution or being actively involved in reducing it. I’d rather just pray for the people in Somalia, Darfur, Chechnya, Tibet, Yangon, and any other number of places. Isn’t prayer more effective than human action? Besides, getting involved in Amnesty International, Save Darfur, Refugees International, or any other number of organizations will put me on their mailing list and I would have to attend meetings.
I can’t attend those meetings, hear those stories, bleed over those crises when I am supposed to be sharing the gospel, attending spiritual retreats, converting the heathen, preaching in developing countries, dealing with planning committees, and preparing for the Second Coming. I’d rather simply send those agencies a donation (provided I get a tax deduction of some sort) than be actively involved.
Besides, isn’t there some place in the Bible that says there will always be those who will be persecuted? There should be. Maybe this is how those who are suffering will find the door to the kingdom of heaven.
A tongue-in-cheek soliloquy, to be sure, but not so far off the way I sometimes think.
And so unlike Jesus.
Jesus was involved—involved with the Samaritans, the Romans, the publicans, the lepers, the sexually immoral, the Pharisees, and the “average” individual. He was involved—concerned, compassionate, engaged, and active. Jesus relieved suffering wherever possible.
And those who are persecuted suffer beyond our imagination.
When Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who suffer for their faith in Him—“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness”—He wasn’t issuing a call for His followers to seek persecution in the work of the gospel. He was reminding them that persecution would attend their following of Him, and that this experience should give them a special sensitivity to other victims of intolerance, prejudice, and heartlessness. Not one thing that the persecuted experience is missed by God—a God who sees and understands their suffering. The persecuted are blessed because God always remembers them, even when His people forget.
We read the blessing on the persecuted as applying chiefly to ourselves—as Christians—but the blessing Jesus spoke extends as far as the compassion of God extends. When we are not the ones being persecuted, it is our mission as His followers to support—to stand up and shine for—those who are being victimized. Some of us may have the tendency to act as the priest or Levite (or, dare I say, the thieves themselves?). But like the Samaritan in the parable (Luke 10:30-35), we are to lift those who are suffering and deliver them from the atrocities committed against them. The blessing on the persecuted both offers an assurance of God’s presence in our personal times of trouble and calls us to get involved and reduce the pain and suffering when others are the ones being persecuted.
“You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).
Leave your comfort zone. Shine well so that others may appreciate the Source of your energy.
Falvo Fowler is an executive producer of Sabbath School University and an editor in the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Spoken in the schoolyard,
Born of careless words.
And actions battering like fists
Pummel in the workplace.
Such as church pews
Are not safe.
Isn’t an option where
We feel the sear
As hatred brands through word and deed.
Better left undone,
Fall from their (and our) own fingertips.
The scales, embrace the pain,
And turn to One who will heal.
Comes, the words will lose their sting
. . . teardrops will fall away in Heaven’s wash.