At the beginning of Moses ministry among the wandering Hebrews he climbed up Mt. Sinai and returned with two tablets of stone. On them, written by the finger of God, was a list of short statements - 10 commandments upon which the whole Mosaic Law would be based. We associate one particular phrase with the 10 Commandments – Thou Shalt Not. That isn’t really fair, they don’t all begin that way – only six do. It is true, though, that four of five of those commandments which deal with human relationships are communicated negatively.
Not so the teachings of Jesus. When he began his ministry he climbed a mountain, sat down, and delivered a list of short statements upon which the rest of his Sermon on the Mount would be based. We associate these statements, the Beatitudes with a single word – Blessed. Jesus begins the new day by bringing us blessings, not prohibitions. And yet, these blessings are not the things we might normally associate with sunshine, warm breezes, and rainbows. They include poverty, mourning, hunger, thirst, and giving mercy (you can’t give mercy if you haven’t something to forgive). Jesus calls us to go beyond patience and endurance. He insists that we view such experiences as blessings. This is far more demanding of us than the 10 Commandments ever were.
Perhaps the most demanding Beatitudes are the last two, quoted above. He calls us to see injustice as a blessing. When we suffer unfairly for Him, we should be glad. He gives us two reasons that, together, encompass the past, the present, and the future. We should be glad when we suffer injustice (in the present) because it connects us to our reward (in the future), and to the suffering of the prophets before us (in the past).
This all makes sense, logically. But nothing could be more counter-intuitive. We naturally, virulently react against injustice – especially suffered by ourselves. We establish governments, hire lawyers, memorize the charter of the homeowners’ association, get the best tax advice, keep a detailed record of every slight – all to ensure we are not forced to endure an injustice. Like Sally Brown – “All we want is our fair share. All we want is what is coming to us.” It may be possible to endure, for the sake of Jesus, such treatment – but to rejoice and be glad about it – how is that possible?
And yet it is possible. Indeed, it is the way the early Christians saw things. When Peter and John suffered their first arrest by the Sanhedrin, the congregation at Jerusalem praised God so intensely that the building was shaken (Acts 4.23-31). The second time they were arrested, Peter and John, “left the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name,” (Acts 5.41). When Paul and Silas, both Roman citizens, were illegally arrested, tortured, and incarcerated at Philippi they spent their time “praying and singing hymns to God”, (Acts 16.25), and again, the building was shaken.
How is this possible? To prepare to endure injustice is understandable, but to take joy in it seems a bit masochistic, even pathological.
Unless we listen to what Jesus really said. We take joy in injustice, not for its own sake, but for the way it connects us to salvation history, and the glory to come. These are the reasons Paul mentions in Philippians 3.4-16. He suffers, he says, because he wants to know Jesus completely – not just through the Word, but through personal experience. He wants to know “the fellowship of his sufferings,” even to “becoming like him in his death,” (v.10). He suffers the loss of all things to attain “the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (v.14).
The bitter Beatitude is bitter in order to be sweet. If we want to know Jesus personally, and not just academically, there is no other way. That we are allowed to know Jesus this fully, this deeply is indeed a blessing. What could be moreso?
- Barry Bryson