This blog brings me to the final blessing of Jesus recorded at the beginning of Matthew chapter 5:
“Happiness for you, when they hurt you and persecute you and slander you for my sake,
Be full of joy and delight
Because the reward which awaits you in heaven is huge.
For in the same way they persecuted your ancestors, the prophets.”
Of course this is a continuation of the previous blessing on those who are persecuted in the cause of the good, but it focuses especially here on Jesus’ disciples. The more general blessing is made particular, and the cause is identified as that of Jesus himself. The disciple follows Jesus because Jesus fulfils his deepest intuitions of goodness, but He also corrects and sharpens them by his teachings and actions. Love of Jesus leads disciples to follow his way, which turns out to offer hurt, suspicion, slander and persecution, as well as happiness. In this case it is tempting to see the suffering as earthly and the happiness as heavenly. But Jesus commands them to be happy now. Yes, that happiness is fuelled by the promise of a reward. All who say that virtue is its own reward, are faced with Jesus’ repeated promise of the recompense that God will give to his persecuted children. Faith without reward is not the faith of Jesus, just as mercy without judgement is not the mercy of Jesus.
But the happiness is also based on the gift of ancestors whom disciples would never have claimed as their own. Jesus recognised the prophets as his own ancestors; he may have understood his own destiny through the figure of God’s suffering servant imagined by Isaiah. He often spoke in the language of the prophets, especially when promising misfortune for God’s enemies. The faithfulness of the prophets in the face of the enmity of the powerful, was an inspiration to Jesus in his ministry and in his suffering. Here, however, he offers his disciples a share in this splendid ancestry. They may not have considered themselves as prophets of God, but here they are adopted into the family of Samuel, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah and the rest. This blessing offers to me the ancestry of God’s biblical prophets, along with the martyrs of the faith, along with Bonhoeffer, Luther King, Gandhi, and many others, some unrecorded, down to David Haines of Perth, the aid worker savagely killed by Daesh. Is this happiness?
Yes, yes, what marvellous dignity it gives to my life when my own poor faith and discipleship, my own minor sufferings, are numbered with those of my ancestors, the prophets of God. And as I am happy to receive the honour of having them as ancestors, maybe, just maybe, they are happy to acknowledge me as one of their successors.
This blessing can help me obey Jesus’ command to be “full of joy and delight.”