This blog continues my meditation on the blessings of Jesus from Matthew chapter 5 which I started in my blog of May 29.
“Happiness for those persecuted in the cause of good:
the rule of heaven belongs to them.”
(I have translated the Greek “dikaiosune” neither as righteousness nor justice, which are the usual versions, but as “the good” because I think it means a comprehensive rightness.)
Being persecuted in the cause of evil is bad enough, but at least you know you’ve deserved it, whereas being persecuted in the cause of good, although common enough in this world, is surely unfair and miserable. I haven’t acted often enough in the cause of good to be able to judge with authority, but my one experience of persecution for that cause, certainly gave me no pleasure, but rather fear, followed by fury.
So what right has Jesus to promise happiness to the persecuted?
Now that I’ve read that last sentence again, I can see how crass it is, given that Jesus knew only too well what it was like to be persecuted in the cause of good.
But he wasn’t happy, was he? It wasn’t like the Python’s parodic crucifixion where the victims sing “Always look on the bright side of life.”
You might conclude that in this case the happiness promised is solely in the future, that is, in the resurrection life where the tears will be wiped away and the hard service rewarded. But I’ve been arguing that although the blessings always point towards the full establishment of God’s rule, they also have a present dimension, in the ministry of jesus and his disciples, that is, in the beginning of God’s rule, through them.
The happiness Jesus promised comes from winning: the powers of the world persecute people who are committed to the good in the expectation that they will give up their commitment, either by agreeing with these powers, or by opposing them with the weapons of the world, for example with hatred and violence. But those who follow Jesus neither give in to the powers, nor do they oppose them by evil means: They hold on to goodness and suffer for it without departing from its methods. They hope that their goodwill may persuade their persecuters. This sacrificial faith is depicted in the much-misinterpreted book of The Revelation as the power which destroys the great city of “Babylon”, representative of all the oppressive empires of the world. The person who suffers for the good knows the happiness of being undefeated and continues to offer to the enemy the goodness which ultimately wins because it is the goodness of God. This is a profound happiness which nothing can remove.
The rule of God means that God wins by persuasive love, including the auffering of those who are persecuted for the good.