I write this post with some irony. Today it is Christmas Eve. Time around the Christmas tree and exchanging presents is a nice thing and I am enjoying it with all the reflection of Christ’s birth that the holiday calls for.
But the irony comes in where I remember that I am writing a blog series on the Sermon On The Mount and the latest installment is a bitter one. The discourse is a powerful one that maps out possibly the best set of how to live the Christian life and takes what my survival instincts want to call a detour.
“‘Blessed are you when people 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 in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
When a reader takes in all of the Beattitudes knowing that this is at the beginning of a movement it is easy to project the ideal in its speaker’s intention that the “arriving” of a grand kingdom would have a goal of coming out on top. The kingdom that appeals to human instincts would be one that feels good and is recognized with worldly appeal and security.
But this religious leader sees a kingdom on earth that is progressive to the point of two things: a heavenly reward and a heavenly perspective. This comes later, but when Jesus starts of his model of the spiritual family prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” of the “Our Father” it nails our concentration into keeping the holy name of the great I AM as sacred in our hearts in all the universe. By keeping ourselves grounded in this we can have a hope that is in Christ who is the “anchor of our soul” (Hebrews 6:19).
So if this goes into our guts and means something to use when we suffer for believing and doing right, we don’t just survive but thrive. Thriving how? Rejoicing! Some translations of joy from the Hebrew used suggest someone literally jumping in the air. But for some that rejoicing is a simple sense of saying with meaning “It is well with my soul”.
But is this things about the prophets a distraction? No. In contrast to human thinking that is centered on the planning of what is next, Jesus serves here as a historian of salvation history. As long as there has been a covenantal mark on the earth by God, like a promise with a down payment, there has been a plot for good rooted in eternal life in conflict with those who would hate God because their deeds are evil and they prefer darkness. For those who suffer of their faith in Jesus, He comforts them in saying that they are not alone in the agenda of grace in the mess of earth.
And now we can get very practical when we consider ISIS. Their atrocities are uspeakable. They astound me on their brazenness of evil that includes beheading and crucifying children. I ask, “How long O Lord?” But I have to believe that God knows what He is doing even when I want something immediately resolved. I blogged on this here:
I come away from this in some further irony by saying that I cannot pray for a renewal of the Church on all the nicer Beattitides without praying for this piece of cilantro called persecution to come. Theologically it s a promotion. But am I up for the job? How can I know?
` Some practical ways I can examine myself in this is on how deeply I apply all of the prior Beattitudes. Through a daily examination of conscience I should put my heart before God and ask where I have not cooperated with the work of the Holy Spirit to be a peacemaker, simplify my spirituality, be a servant to my neighbor and so forth. With my enduring theory that a relationship, much less with God, is not an instant formula but a process there is hope that I would endure persecution and rejoice even unto death. What is stopping us?