March 31, 2016
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
They say when you try to pull one lobster out of an aquarium filled with lobsters the rest of them will attempt to grab a hold of the one being pulled out in order to bring her back down. People can be like that. When a person becomes filled with the Holy Spirit they tend to start becoming a distinctively new kind of person. The crowd from which they came does not like this. Righteousness creates a kind of contrast with the crowd that can make the crowd angry, because it exposes them. Light always does that. It brings on persecution.
Let’s recall what righteousness is and is not. You will remember a few days back where we dealt with the fourth beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” The word “righteousness” scares us because we think of it as meaning, “religious.” We immediately think of the connection to self-righteousness which strikes us as a holier-than-thou kind of person and this is the last thing we want to be. This could not be further from the truth. The biblical word for righteousness holds a supercharged meaning. It brings together all the goodness and rightness and radiance God intends for us as human beings made in his image. To be righteous is to become ever increasingly like Jesus. To be righteous means to become a powerful person in the way the image bearers of God were meant to be powerful. Remember when James reminded us of the story of Elijah, noting, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (5:16b) As an aside that is not really an aside, it’s particularly fascinating to consider the first part of that verse which says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
In this particular context, coming on the heels of “Blessed are the peacemakers,” the word, “righteousness,” carries with it a strong tone of the justice of God. People on the pathway of becoming righteous invariably begin to work for righteousness in the world around them. And this really makes people mad. Many people in the world make money by exploiting the most poor and vulnerable among us. In fact, the broken kingdom of the world is decidedly skewed in that direction. The exploitation of women and children through human trafficking, the flourishing slave trade in the world today, the callous treatment of refugees and we could go on. Anything that tends toward the further desecration of the image of God in human beings can be categorically considered as unrighteous. Anytime someone takes that on, they will pay the price of persecution. And anytime anyone takes the desecration of unrighteousness on and pays the price of persecution they walk in blessedness—which is the joy of God, because it is the very kingdom of God advancing against the darkness.
1. So how about it? Is your appetite for the goodness and rightness and radiance God intends for us—aka righteousness—growing? How are you feeding that appetite?
2. What scares you about being “persecuted for righteousness sake?” Have you ever experienced this? Have you witnessed it happen to another?
3. What do you think about this notion of righteousness as the justice of God, who wills to reverse all of the desecrating damage of the curse of sin and death? How are you participating in that work? How might you?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.