I think the Sermon on the Mount provides the deepest and most profound treatment and explanation for the human predicament of how to live—today. It is a timeless document. It is filled with spiritual knowledge. It is quite simply, the Word of God. And one word especially stands out today. In fact, Jesus calls it a “blessing.” I am referring to the word “persecution.”
In the Beatitudes (blessings) Jesus addresses those who are blessed, or “well-off” as we might say. The audience then, and the readers today, might think Jesus is referring to the wealthy, the corporate leaders, the politically powerful, the religious elite. Of course, such characters are not mentioned. This is where Jesus throws a curve ball.
His focus is on the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those are the ones who have it made. They are blessed and considered well-off. Then, Jesus throws another strike at us when he comes not to a conclusion, but to the beginning, by speaking to Christians as “salt of the earth” and light of the world.” For example, Jesus says, “Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10a).
This is when our jaws drop, when we scratch our heads, when we take a deep breath, and think to ourselves or even murmur out loud, “what in the world is Jesus talking about?” And right then and there, with our knees shaking and heads spinning, Jesus throws fire and hurls strike three when he promises the persecuted, “the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10b). And with that, game over. We are now playing for real. Permit me to explain.
In the Upper Room, on the night before he was betrayed, Jesus speaks to his disciples with these words, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33 NRSV) The next day, Jesus is crucified.
Brothers and sisters, this is the real-deal. Granted, I am in the safety of my own home, writing, quoting Jesus, my Lord, who promises in him I will have peace. I am familiar with, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I get it. Understanding is like reason. Yet when we don’t understand, when life is unreasonable, faith in God provides spiritual knowledge. Faith surpasses understanding. That is, faith in Jesus is where we will find peace amidst the turbulence, struggles, and persecution in this life. It is the Gospel truth.
Twenty years ago, we wanted to help Afghanistan. In prayer, I know I am finding help. As I pray, the persecuted are helping me see the world like never before. They are showing courage beyond understanding. They see Jesus. They are welcomed into his Kingdom. They are blessed. In the Kingdom of God there is an eternal dignity, joy, fulfillment and peace.
They are helping me see we are no longer strangers but we are citizens and members of this household of God. Nothing will separate us from God’s love. Nothing. They rely totally upon God. They give glory to God alone. Soli Deo Gloria. Pray and come alive in Jesus, “where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.” (BCP, p. 483)