The Last Beattitude & the Trophy for Caring
The Beatitudes were Jesus’ beginning statement in the Sermon on the Mount which began with, “Blessed are …..” Do you recall the last Beattitude mentioned by the Lord? It is in Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus’ Beattitudes that began with “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” reach a counter-intuitive crescendo. It is only natural to ask for clarification: “Lord, Do you mean 1) that You expect us to be reviled by others and persecuted, and 2) that we are to see this as blessed???” I believe the Lord is saying YES to both. Of course our natural human protests, “Isn’t everybody supposed to like us?” And Jesus no doubt would say NO! Instead, we should expect persecution and all types of verbal abuse. One blessing of the persecuted is that it marks our authenticity as disciples (when we are truly persecuted “on His account” and not for our unfaithful caricatures of Jesus.) The onslaught of verbal assassination and other persecution is one of the most sure indicators we are right in the middle of doing the Lord’s will. And counterintuitively before the Lord, it becomes a strange form of encouragement.
Will we follow a Lord who calls us to this kind of social embarrassment and suffering? It is not that we actively seek revilement, but that in the natural course of discipleship, following the earlier beatitudes for instance, we will provoke the ire of people who are “convicted” by our words and behavior. The revilers reveal that they have alternate visions of what the kingdom of God looks like, conflicting views of what it means to show care and compassion, and ultimately different pictures of Jesus.
The current worldly picture of Christ here in America is “Jesus the Nice Guy who Cares.” And there is truth to this picture, as in any caricature. It is hard for Christians here to correct and deepen this picture of Jesus, for we are tempted daily to buy into it, to be nice like the world thinks Jesus is nice. But this would ultimately lead to our denying the Christ who was an equal offender of the religious (Pharisees) and the worldly (Sadducess and Herodians) who together planned to kill Him. One could just as accurately paint a portrait of Jesus on the other end of the spectrum, along the lines of “Christ the Controversialist.” Sure enough, Jesus is nice and caring–BUT on His own terms. He is not preoccupied as are his 21st century disciples with being perceived as caring. In fact, Jesus’ form of caring was often downright offensive and troubling. Pure and authentic compassion has to be grounded enough in the Kingdom and the Word to take the risk of revilement.
Let me illustrate with a real but unnamed example of what a disciple looks like whose Jesus is the worldly caricature: The Nice Guy who Cares. This is a hard-working minister type involved in many good works. Fine and good. But his glory, what makes for music to his ears is not “Well done, good and faithful servant,” but a headline in the New York Times reading: “Such and Such Church Gets Our Trophy for Caring!” If we deep down want the world to like us and to think well of us, then we will be tempted in making Jesus just a nice and caring guy, who wouldn’t offend a soul or make anyone angry. Compassion is indeed called for, but not capitulation to the culture’s mandate to call blue red, just so everyone can feel better and we can be given a “trophy for caring” by a culture that deep down really doesn’t like us. Where would we display such a trophy? Hopefully not in sight of the cross.
So the question at hand before the disciple is this: Where is your holy ground? You take off your shoes on holy ground, like Moses did when meeting the Lord at the burning bush. Your culture has places it considers holy ground, whether matters sexual, political or ideological. You are being asked to take your shoes off on this holy ground so that no feet are stepped on. Where’s your holy ground? The failure to recognize our culture’s holy ground will most assuredly mean our stepping on some feet. And you will hear about it. When this happens, Jesus calls you blessed.
No wonder Jesus said on another occasion: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26) LH