Jesus wants us to believe that those who are insulted, persecuted, and slandered for righteous living are blessed (see Matthew 5.10-12). Saving the question of blessing for another day, I still wonder why the righteous would be persecuted. After all, don’t we want the people who share our space to be merciful, pure, and peaceable? One would think that the people who dispense mercy, work for justice, love selflessly, and give generously would be the heroes of any community. But Jesus warns us that, sooner or later, righteous living will bring persecution. Why will “they” hate “us” so much?
Jesus answered that question, in part, in the gospel of John. He said,
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me (John 15.18-21).
Why will the world hate the righteous enough to make them suffer because of their beliefs? Because the righteous do not belong to the world. And as a result, the righteous do not have the same values as the world. And simply because we have been chosen out of the world, and have been reborn with the nature of another world, the world will hate us.
Earlier, in the gospel of John, the apostle explains what happened when Jesus became flesh. John wrote,
Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3.19).
When the light shines in the darkness, the darkness must either embrace the light or shun the light. And when the darkness prefers the darkness over the light, the light must be driven away. That is what happened in the incarnation, and that is what will happen when the righteous shine like stars in the dark night.
Paul, no stranger to persecution, wrote,
Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. 17But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2.14-18)
Tomorrow, we will explore why this kind of persecution could be called the path of blessing, but for today, Jesus tells us not to be surprised when the world around us that prefers the darkness hates us when the light of Christ shines through us. Keep holding out the word of life without grumbling but with rejoicing.