The world often pushes back violently against those who seek God’s reign.
Today is Good Friday. We pause for a moment of silence to acknowledge and give thanks for the sacrifice made today by Jesus our Lord on behalf of all creation. As followers of Jesus, we, too, are sometimes called to make sacrifices and even endure persecution for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Consider the following teaching by Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people 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 in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).
The just way of life Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7) challenges many of the convictions, structures and systems that define and shape life in the world. But God promises that this prophetic way of life is rich and rewarding, as reflected in the Beatitudes. For example:
• “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3); yet people in the world frequently celebrate the powerful decision-makers that lead our institutions and societies into the future.
• “Blessed are the gentle ones, for they shall inherit the earth” (5:5); yet people in the world often extol aggressive speech and action taken in the name of convictions and ideals.
• “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled” (5:6); yet people in the world usually seek to define justice for themselves and then to carry it out, rather than discerning and implementing God’s justice in the world.
• “Blessed are the ones practicing mercy, for they shall receive mercy” (5:7); yet people in the world sometimes perceive the practice of mercy as a weak and ineffective form of leadership.
• “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (5:9); yet in our world, saber-rattling is a common practice by which people seek to get their way.
In today’s passage, Jesus confirms what we have been discussing at various times during this Holy Week: proclaiming and embodying the will of God, and drawing attention to a God’s-eye view of reality, provoke resistance from people and groups who benefit from the status quo structures of the world. God calls all of us as followers of Jesus to seek and work for a just society and world where people are in right relationship with God and with one another.
The cross and crucifixion of Jesus remind us starkly, however, that the world pushes back. The world vigorously and sometimes violently pushes back against those who seek to overturn or undermine political and religious power structures that do not reflect God’s will for the world. Throughout the course of history, followers of Jesus have been persecuted for their faith and their Christian convictions.
• The young Perpetua and her companions were martyred in the stadium at Carthage, North Africa, in the year 203 because they would not recant their faith in Jesus Christ.
• Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980 because he spoke out regularly against poverty, social injustice, and violent repressions of human rights being carried out at the behest of his country’s government.
• The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned from time to time and, ultimately, assassinated because he worked tirelessly for racial and economic equality for all people in America.
• Sometimes the persecution even comes from inside the church: Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and two other Anglican Bishops were burned at the stake in Oxford in 1555-56 by Queen Mary I for refusing to abandon some of their Protestant religious convictions.
But fortunately, for most of us in this country, the sacrifices we are called to make on behalf of the Gospel are not usually so extreme.
• We might willingly face repercussions from our employer for speaking prophetically to him about the lower wages he pays women with similar responsibilities to ours.
• We might be called to endure social ostracism for speaking prophetically as a member of a private club that excludes people on the basis of race, religion or gender.
• We might intentionally face ridicule from friends for insisting on more orderly and less contentious debate and dialogue on controversial political or social issues, whether in the church or in the public square.
No matter what the issue, or the identities of those involved, from time to time God calls us to take courageous stands against people, relationships and systems that abuse or neglect other human beings.
Questions for Reflection
• In what ways do the poor, hungry or homeless people in your area signify broken, distorted, forgotten or abused relationships? What prophetic steps have you taken to speak out on the subject and to respond?
• Is there a recent time you can identify when you endured hostility or persecution for a position or action you took on behalf of your faith?
O God our Father, whose Son forgave his enemies while he was suffering shame and death: Strengthen those who suffer for the sake of conscience and faithful obedience; when they are accused, save them from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from despair; and to us your servants give grace to respect their witness and discern their truth, that our society may be cleansed and strengthened; and by their witness, encourage us to willingly speak prophetically about the injustices of our world. This we ask for the sake of Jesus Christ, our merciful and righteous judge. Amen (adapted from the BCP, p. 823).