Blessed are…the enemy-lovers
Leviticus 19.1-2, 9-18
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Remember our theme in this sermon series? It’s this: the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to people who ‘get it’. They are the people of the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit; the mourners; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; the persecuted.
The persecuted. Many people are being persecuted today, for their faith, for political reasons, for their sexuality. Christians are leaving Middle Eastern countries today because it’s just so difficult to live there; there are places in which Christians don’t have full civil rights. We really aren’t persecuted for their faith here in Australia; none of us is liable to personal harm or even lack of professional advancement purely because we belong to a church.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake’. This is surely the hardest beatitude. How can people who are persecuted be ‘blessed’ in any way, shape or form? What sense could it make to say that?
Let’s look at how those who were being persecuted for their faith might have responded to what Jesus is saying here.
We need to remember again that Jesus lived in a different time and place to us. His culture was based on ‘honour’ and ‘shame’. A person with honour could hold his head up anywhere, and be highly regarded. A person without honour felt a sense of shame, and could not command any respect at all. Think of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee prays with a sense of honour:
God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.
The tax-collector takes the place of the shameful: he stands far off, beats his breast and says,
God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
If we look at those who are persecuted in such a society, we see they know what shame is; they have no honour. The people who persecute them have honour; but they have none in their eyes.