Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Persecuted and Persecutor

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Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(Mt 5:10-12)

Many will only consider the first part (v. 10) as the Eighth Beatitude. In reality, without the following two verses (vv. 11-12), the Beatitude is incomplete. This is because the latter part describes what Jesus means by righteousness’ sake. In an earlier post, I described righteousness as God’s righteousness. The righteousness of God is personified in the person of Jesus. Thus, if we are persecuted because of Jesus, we are blessed.

There are many who are persecuted simply because they were Christians. Such was the plight of the martyrs of the early Church. Nero needed a scapegoat for the fires that raged Rome during his reign and he chose the Christians. During the Neronian persecutions, Christians were killed indiscriminately, not taking into account whether the individual Christians were really guilty of the fire or not.

Christians are still persecuted in different ways in different parts of the world. However, there are also many Christians who do not act like Christians. They retaliate by committing acts of violence against those who persecute them, acting contrary to what Jesus taught:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Mt 43-44)

In some cases, it is quite understandable, no matter how un-Christian it is, how retaliation occurs. When the persecution takes away the life of a loved one, there is grief. Grief can lead to rage and the need to retaliate overwhelms the mandate to forgive and love. That is why in an earlier Beatitude, Jesus talks about mourning (v. 4). Grief should lead to mourning instead of rage. Christian leadership is important in every community. Without Christian leadership, communities who claim to be Christian might forget the values that Christ taught and end up becoming counter-witnesses. Often the fear of disappearing into oblivion prompts communities to retaliate. Yet Jesus taught:
For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Mt. 16:25)

The teachings of Christ are not easy to follow if we do not submit to the grace of God. Thus, we should not judge individuals too harshly for failing. Judgement should be reserved to the Lord.

There are usually many people who complain that they are being persecuted for doing what is right. What these people should realise is that by complaining, they are retaliating in some way. Of course, when one is frustrated, one needs to vent. However, when the complaints leads to putting down of the ‘persecutor’, is it not like retaliation? Thus, it is important for us who are frustrated, to choose wisely the people to whom we talk to. If they are usually the same people, there will be no misunderstanding with regards to our ranting.

More importantly, we need to realise that we might be the persecutors instead of the persecuted. Often we vent our frustrations by making life difficult for the people around us. For example, if we are dissatisfied with how our superiors treat us, we might take out our frustrations on those who work with us. Our disapproval of mistakes might be disproportionate to the mistakes made.

More reprehensible would be when we impose our standards on others. Sometimes we put ourselves on a moral high ground, claiming to be good Christians and then proceed to bring down those who do not fit our standards. We fail to see that we are more like the Pharisees and scribes at the time of Jesus than Christian!

I believe that this Beatitude encourages us to humble ourselves and not retaliate. This beatitude encourages us to allow ourselves to be “walked all over” by others for the sake of Christ. We are not asked to be cowards. Rather, we are called to consider the value of Christ’s attitude at His Passion as a lamb led to the slaughter. It is not an easy attitude to adopt but we need to if we truly want to be “Blessed”.

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