Posted on August 23, 2015
Blessed : When you lay down your power and live God’s Kingdom every day (A series on the Beatitudes)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5: 10-12
This is the 8th and final Beatitude, and honestly, I’ve been concerned all through this series that writing about this one would be difficult, and it is. It’s difficult, because I have never experienced the kind of persecution Christians in other countries experience. So, it seems trivial to speak of anything else but the lives of persecuted Christians all over the world, and especially in countries where evil such as ISIS reigns. Torturous treatment capped off with a public beheading, all because of faith in God and a steadfast determination to remain faithful, even at the cost of one’s life. It’s unfathomable that human beings are capable of such evil isn’t it? People absolutely void of any sense of the sanctity of human lives. It’s just appalling.
That is the same kind of evil that crucified Christ. And interestingly enough, he wasn’t even crucified for saying he was God. He was crucified because he threatened the power of the social status quo. When the Pharisees said, “Don’t be in the presence of a sinner, much less have dinner with them,” Jesus did it anyway. That kind of stuff ruffled a few priestly feathers.
Jesus was different than all of the religious leaders of his time. The culture he was born into was in many ways like the culture of today. There were political leaders controlling and manipulating the culture through the power of position and authority. There were economic structures that padded the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor. There were religious leaders that manipulated the community through strict standards that left many as outcasts and strangers. All of these used their power as an excuse to treat others unjustly. Unless you were the political, economic or religious elite, you were at the mercy of the people in power.
Power, by its very nature, relies on making someone else evil. The power is almost always gained at the expense of someone else. In the culture of ancient Israel, Rome exerted political power through harsh authority, oppressing any who didn’t pledge allegiance to Rome. Caesar also had economic power, taxing the people straight into poverty, even looking the other way as tax collectors charged more than required, pocketing the extra profits. Religious leaders rose up and oppressed their own people, feeding their power hungry egos with strict codes of conduct, harshly punishing any who didn’t follow the rules exactly.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was proclaiming a standard that was opposite any of these manipulative control factors. He was saying, “Take heart! You can be different. You don’t have to be like all of those powers that treat you unjustly. You are blessed, even happy when you refuse to be like them and instead apply mercy, grace and justice. You have so much more than they do. Just stop and see it.” And so he gave us eight power-filled ways to live our lives that may sound like being a doormat to power, but actually are ways to live that bring the Kingdom of God here. Now. Today.
The Kingdom of God was then and the Kingdom of God is now. When we stop fighting for power, and instead put on love above all things, we have truly found the One True Kingdom. We either choose to live in the Kingdom or we choose to live outside of it.
One of the things I’m profoundly saddened by, is the tendency of Christians to cast judgement on other Christians because their beliefs don’t line up exactly with their own. We build our little kingdoms, with walls made out of sound biblical doctrine and doors shut tight with cultural norms to protect what is inside from the evils that lurk outside. We are the rulers and we decide who is out and who is in. In the name of protecting our faith, we cast out those that commit sins according to our version of what we think God said through His Word. We use words from His Word to justify our unkindness, and support our religious entitlement. We leave in our wake a path of destruction to the poor, the marginalized, the ones who don’t look like us, act like us or believe like us.
But what if we put all of that aside? What if we let God be God and let his Kingdom reign in us today? The walls of sound biblical doctrine could be torn down and the Law of Love could take its place. What if the doors were flung open and our culture became one that embraced all who come with open arms? Would our faith be any less worthy if we let “them” participate in loving babies in the nursery or playing a musical instrument or being a Bible study leader?
We fear that our acceptance of sinners sends a message that we condone sin. I wonder, just what kind of sin do we condone and what kind of sin do we not condone? I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’m a sinner. I have a few sins that exempt me from “normal” church leadership-type things (divorce and remarriage), and then I have a lot of sins that don’t exempt me (gossiping, gluttony, unkindness, etc…). So how exactly do we decide what crosses the line?
So the way I see this Beatitude is this:
You’re blessed, when you lay down your power and kingdom and choose instead to live your life in God’s Kingdom every single day. You might be criticized because you don’t take a stand against gay marriage or divorce or the use of alcohol. Be happy, because you have found the secret to living God’s Kingdom now, and God will reward you for it.
Will you live in the Kingdom of God now by being who God made you to be, a person clothed in mercy, peace, humility and compassion? Be free to love. Be free to embrace. Be the attitude of Christ so eloquently stated in The Beatitudes.