“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”
Both Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain Jesus’ teaching in what we call The Beatitudes. While their core teachings are similar, their approach is different. Matthew spiritualizes the aspects of human conditions of hunger, grief, and hatred. Luke, however, recognizes them as very real aspects of daily existence. We may hunger and thirst for righteousness, as Matthew states, but we also actually hunger and thirst.
And yet, for their differences, both Luke and Matthew are very similar in the blessing of being hated and ostracized because of Jesus. Matthew’s version is as follows:
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 in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Our ancestors who followed the teachings of Jesus did so at a cost. They were not the majority religion in their communities. Their churches were not the worshipping communities of those in power, organizations that were included on resumes to impress others. Going to church was a very real risk.
Early Christian communities were a rag-tag group of mis-matched humans gathered in all their diversity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. They often had to renounce their positions of power to be baptized. Some early Christians were ostracized from their families and friends. Many lost their sources of income as teachers, soldiers, and government officials in Imperial Rome to gain their Christian faith. Some would claim the faith of Jesus, and this claim would ultimately lead to their martyrdom.
Today many of us attend church at no significant personal cost. We will not be reviled by our communities for belonging to a Christian church. We can wear crosses without fear of being imprisoned. Politicians claim the Christian faith to get votes, not to lose power. Regardless of the narrative that may exist about Christians being reviled, excluded, and defamed, we are actually quite privileged in much of the Western world.
However, we would do well to remember the religious privilege many of us experience in the United States and many European countries is not a reality for all Christians. Many Christians gather to worship and follow the teachings of Christ at great peril. As recently as Palm Sunday, Egyptian Christians were the victims of real violence and death.
On this day, when many of us have no real barrier to join in worship, other sisters and brothers in Christ across the globe took very real risks to get to church. Prayer for them is an act of defiance to the power of fear. Singing hymns to God is a witness of joy in the face of danger. And receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is brave faith in a world that tries to cower the Gospel message of hope and love.
Jesus’ teaching in this particular Beatitude is hope to those who are suffering from the very real persecution that his followers did and continue to experience…and a warning to us who may get too comfortable in our faith, forgetting the real sacrifice following Jesus entails.
Our Good Shepherd was crucified as a traitor and troublemaker. He reminded us that people – all of them – are loved by God and deserve love from us. He met violence and hatred with mercy and welcome. He stared down death and hell and came back to tell us we are loved. That is risky, scandalous, and unpredictable stuff. That is the stuff that makes prejudice, hatred, and violence lash out in anger to scare us and keep us in our place, compliant and docile.
We can be silenced in our fear that we will be ostracized and pay a price for proclaiming Christ’s message. We can become comfortable in our stasis, minimizing the scandal of the Gospel and substituting a sedate Jesus that asks very little of us.
Or we can be courageous in our faith, and bravely stand with saints past, present, and those to come and follow Jesus, realizing this obedience to love will come at an earthly cost.
At what risk will we follow Jesus?
The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.