OK Darkwood Brewsters. I hope I don’t cause too many raised eyebrows – or maybe I do – with my opinion about this last Beatitude. In fact, let’s just throw down the whole deck of cards here. Every now and then I think Jesus, at least as he gets recorded in the big black book of Christianity, gets it at least partly wrong.
I can hear an angel crying right now. Heresy. I know. Since local billboards are calling for the end of the world this coming March I guess I’m, well…never mind.
Follow me down this road a bit. I’m not trying to convince you of anything, I just have a problem with this passage. Maybe a heavenly messenger will appear to me tonight and and clear this all up. However, that hasn’t really worked for me in the past. So help me out here.
1. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This initially works. It’s a nicely composed sentence. And, since I tend to understand the Kingdom of Heaven as meaning the here and now thanks to some help from my theologian friends, I can basically get on board. But I find one logical problem. I’m not much of a logician, but I do understand this as an “if-then” statement.
“If you are persecuted for righteousness-then you are blessed.” It’s simple. It even tells why. “Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” But, hang on a minute there J-man. The Kingdom of Heaven (again, as I understand it) belongs to everyone already. It’s here and now. Free. Righteous, not righteous, etc. In fact, the persecuted may have a harder time accessing the kingdom because they’re, well, persecuted. So it could also read as: “If you are persecuted for righteousness, or not, then you are blessed.” Scott’s Corollary: “It doesn’t feel very blessed to be persecuted.”
I remember reading Viktor Frankl in college. His assertion that we are always free in our mind, regardless of what the world can do to us, helps a little. So, I can turn the phrase a bit and have it make sense:
“Because the Kingdom of God is theirs, even those persecuted for righteousness are blessed.”
However, that’s not what the man said. At least it’s not what got written down.
Now, maybe my understanding of blessing has something to do with all this. I assume that blessing is like a New Orleans lagniappe…a little something extra. However, I find this blessing to be something we share as humans already.
OK. So sit with that for a minute. The second thing I have a problem with (yes, I know heresy upon heresy) is this: persecuted for righteousness’ sake. So it’s not enough to be persecuted. I have to be persecuted for the sake of being righteous. So John McCain – I pick him not because I particularly like his politics, but because he’s probably America’s best-know prisoner of war from the military action (sic) in Vietnam.
He’s captured and tortured and held prisoner for many years. I’m calling that a classic example of persecution. It requires:
1. He is treated poorly (that’s an understatement)
2. It is on purpose and people are doing it to him. Hurricane Katrina was not a persecution. It was a disaster. Unless you believe God called Katrina down…and then we’ve got a whole lot of blogs to catch you up here. For the moment, I’m going to confine persecution to something other people do. Not tigers or viruses or the jet stream.
So McCain is held prisoner in horrible conditions for over 5 years. Yet, he may not have reached that righteous bar Jesus set out. Was it a righteous act fighting in the war? Is it whether his opinion was that it was righteous that matters? The man still isn’t sure whether he’s a Baptist or an Episcopalian (got that from an interview we shot with Randall Balmer last Thursday.) So I’m pretty sure he doesn’t hit the mark for this blessing if it is based strictly on theology. Fortunately Jesus doesn’t say “only those persecuted for righteousness.” So McCain may have been blessed in his mind knowing that he staid the course and supported other prisoners and still loved his family and all that. However, Jesus isn’t giving him an automatic blessing here.
Next, instead of getting more generous, it seems to me that jesus is sort of closing the loop:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
So, Jesus, now it’s if we’re off being proto-Christians trying to follow your way, then we get persecuted that the blessing kicks in. Specifically, if they lie about me or say something mean – understanding at the time that my life could be in peril if that happens, so I’m not trying to downplay this – then I’m blessed and I should:
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I should rejoice and be glad in this? Really?
So if I understand this right, I get the same thing the guy next to me gets – the Kingdom of God – through no effort or deeds of my own, and now, when he cracks me over the head because I tell him the good news, I should rejoice and be glad in the suffering because, “Hey, at least I know I’m in the Kingdom. In fact, the pain in my head is a nice reminder.”
So, let me try to make sense of this in my own way, and see what you think. I really am very interested to hear where you weigh in on this.
I’m going to assume that Jesus is right about this Beatitude. I know that sounds flippant, but to really understand it, I want to look at it from the standpoint of a brilliant speaker and organizer trying to get a complex point across to a field full of people. I wasn’t around to wing in a follow up question so I’m going to assume Jesus did his homework and had some answers. That seemed to be his M.O.
If I know that I am inseparable from the Kingdom – that it is in me and around me and cannot be removed from me in any way, ever, by any action or length of time – then I always have a refuge. When I also know that I share Soulforce which is equal to, and ultimately the same as my persecutor – that in fact we share that Soulforce – then my place in the Kingdom cannot ever be usurped or taken away. Even if I die, which all of us will, and which is a temporal thing, I have my place in the non-temporal Kingdom always. If that is true, in every case, if I am persecuted for that knowledge, and my actions resulting from that knowledge, I am blessed in the assurance that both I share in the eternal, immutable divinity of life.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
OK. Maybe it makes sense now. Maybe? Or too complex? Can you make it simpler for me? What do you think?