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Blessed Are The Persecuted.

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when they revile you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you, falsely, for my sake; rejoice and jump for joy, for your reward is great in heave, for this is how they persecuted your predecessors among the prophets.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.  Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! -for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company.  My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. (The Message Translation of this Beatitude)

Just a reminder: Blessed, what does Jesus intend by using this paradoxical word?  In trying to understand the focus of the beatitudes I think that it is important to consider the meaning and the intent of this first word which we translate ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’.

  • In Greek the first word is MAKAROI – which helps us understand people enjoying a deep inner joy, a lasting spiritual experience, like the inner joy that continues to grow deeper as life experience grows. It is an experience of life at its best and a call to do something about it!  For example, perhaps a more real translation would be: get up, go ahead, and do something.  Move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice.  For you shall be satisfied.  Get up, go ahead, and move.  Take action, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.

As I said, most of us don’t know what to do with the beatitudes, but they sound like a beautiful and familiar poem, or a list that makes us feel guilty because we are not good enough, meek enough.  Upon pondering the beatitudes, I really think that Jesus is saying:  “If you feel you are living in a world where you don’t fit in, start creating a new, more loving world.  God and the kingdom of heaven are doing it with you.  Act like you belong to God’s kingdom.  Do something beautiful with God.”

There is a kind of double helping of the beatitude of the persecuted – the longest of the beatitudes and one that is almost like saying “Amen, amen I say to you”!  We all know how hard it is to work towards overcoming division!  This beatitude acknowledges that.  In the loss – the persecution – there is also sometimes a great good in disguise, a reality, an invitation to options.  It is a beatitude that has a lesson of liberation in it –wrapped up in this beatitude is my reflection that my commitment to God  can be an experience of the loss of needing to succeed and of needing to control.

One of the most poignant images of contradiction or paradox that I live with each day when I walk into our chapel is the figure of Christ on the cross – there in full view is LOVE nailed to a cross:  this is the holy and life-giving cross, the shout of victory that is ours!  Does my life proclaim that it is in the cross of Christ that I glory? The main symbol of Christianity is not the star of Bethlehem or the empty tomb but the Cross.  This beatitude confronts our timidness.  Why are we so timid?  Part of the answer is that we tend to be unaware that our lives are being shaped by what seems to be ‘normal’ wherever it is that we live.

This is the beatitude that asks the most questions:

  • To what extent are we really living the gospel ourselves?
  • Are we living a timid rather than the magnitude of a meek (patient, persistent, humble while being gentle) Christianity?
  • What would happen if we lived out our faith with wholeheartedness and courage?

I find that this beatitude is the one that leads me to a daily examin of consciousness, and while I have my own prayer I also found the one that Jim Forest outlines in his book “The Ladder of the Beatitudes” to be very helpful when I was reflecting upon the beatitudes.  He wrote:

  • Do I embrace poverty of spirit – or flee from it at the speed of light?
  • For whom have I been in mourning?
  • How meek am I in my response to the gospels?
  • In what ways am I hungry for righteousness?
  • How merciful am I regarding those who in some way have [different ideas, different life-styles from mine or have] done me harm?
  • How pure is my heart and what keeps it so impure?
  • In what ways am I trying to purify my heart?
  • What are the divisions that intersect my life and in what ways am I responding to these divisions as a peacemaker?
  • What enemies do I Love?  For which enemies am I praying?
  • Whose threatened life am I trying to safeguard?
  • Do I accept persecution as a blessing – or do I avoid anything that might get me into trouble?

Each of the beatitudes has to do with dying to self.  Poverty of spirit, the foundation of the beatitudes, is the ongoing process of dying to self, not out of self-hatred or a collapse of self esteem but because when we are so full of ourselves there is no room left for God!  There is no other way to love God and our neighbour.

We are given an opportunity in this beatitude:  to shout and leap for joy!  We are called by our commitment to the gospel to make a life-changing impact on people.  It is not a choice to make for anyone whose goal in life is security!  However, if we believe that the truest thing we can say is that God is love, if we believe that following Christ is the sanest and the wisest thing we can do in our lives because each step forward brings us closer to the kingdom of God on earth (which we pray for each day in the Lord’s prayer), then you and I have a great deal to rejoice in!

I found a translation of the beatitudes in Aramaic in a book by N Douglas-Klotz called “Prayers of the Cosmos” and perhaps this is a fitting way to end my reflections on the Beatitudes!

Tuned to the Source are those who live by breathing Unity; their “I can” is included in God’s
Blessed are those in emotional turmoil; they shall be united inside by love.
Blessed are those who have softened what is rigid within; they shall receive physical vigor and strength from the universe.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for physical justice; they shall be surrounded by what is needed to sustain their bodies.
Blessed are those who, from their inner wombs, birth mercy; they shall feel its warm arms embrace them.
Aligned with the One are those whose lives radiate from a core of love; they shall see God everywhere.
Blessed are those who plant peace each season; they shall be named the children of God.
Blessings to those who are dislocated for the cause of justice; their new home is the province of the universe.
Renewal when you are reproached and driven away by the clamor of evil on all sides for my sake … then do everything extreme, including letting your ego disappear, for this is the secret of claiming your expanded home in the universe.
For so they shamed those before you:
All who are enraptured, saying inspired things – who produce on the outside what the spirit has given them within.