Image: Salome’s dance with the head of John the Baptist, San Marco Church floor, Venice
Jesus shows his approval for those who have to endure unfair treatment by saying: Blessed are those persecuted on account of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The list of Beatitudes takes on a new twist here. They move from focusing on those characteristics by which we can get our life right with God and our fellow human beings, to encouragement for some of the difficult consequences that result from applying this new life in everyday living.
Getting into trouble as a deserved result of some unfortunate behaviour is strikingly different from getting into trouble when you don’t deserve it. The life of Joseph gives an interesting example:
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery to the Ishmaelites who took him from Canaan to Egypt. He was bought by Potiphar, an officer in Pharaoh’s army, and because of his cheerfulness, personability, and managerial skills was, although still a slave, placed in charge of Potiphar’s household. But Potiphar’s wife wanted to seduce this nice young man who also had the strength of character to resist her approaches. In her frustration and disappointment, she told her husband the reverse of what had actually happened – that Joseph had tried to seduce her. Unfortunately Potiphar believed his wife’s story and had Joseph thrown into prison amongst some pretty vile criminals.
John the Baptist literally lost his head from speaking out against Herod’s adulterous action. Fortunately David accepted Nathan’s criticism without retribution. But Jesus knew what it was like to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Even at a mild level, there were malicious hecklers in the crowd who tried to trip him up. Once they asked him a tricky political question which they thought had him on the ‘horns of a dilemma’.
They asked him, in front of the crowd, if they should pay their taxes to the Roman authorities. The dilemma was this: If he said they should, he risked the displeasure of an overtaxed people, if he said they should not, he risked the censorship of the Roman officials. So what did he do? He asked to see a coin, and then said, “Whose is this likeness and signature?” When they replied, “Caesar’s”, he answered, “Then pay Caesar what is due to Caesar and to God what is due to God”.
Even early on in his ministry he predicted the severest persecution for himself for preaching the way he did. He saw himself as dying for the sins of the world. That was for the sins of others, not because he needed to pay for his own mistakes. He wanted all people, but especially those who were poor, and in need of help, who were heavily disadvantaged, sad, tired, disillusioned, or lonely and neglected, to find rest, peace, joy and fulfillment as members with him in his kingdom. A realm not of this world but a spiritual one based on love.
For such ‘wicked’ ideas he was killed a few years later by the Romans with the approval of the Jewish crowd. At this stage, however, he gives his highest approval to those followers who, in trying to do the right thing, are unfairly treated.
Song: Beating the Bully
Tune: A-roving. Allegro.
We know what to expect full well when we have played the fool,
It’s different with unfair dislike that’s undeserved and oh so cruel,
It happens when a bully takes advantage of the weak.
Persecution, persecution, persecution Percy,
He hasn’t heard of kindness and he knows no mercy.
One reply is simply to ignore what’s proving rough!
Continue living blamelessly, get on with all the healthy stuff.
It happens when the love of God rules in our hearts.
If more than that you have the strength to ‘turn the other cheek’
To pray for those who bully you and try to see what makes them sick
They may themselves need help from you to change their lives.