March 7, 2012: The Fifteenth Day of Lent

March 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” ~ Matthew 5.11, 12 ~

Jesus knew that the last saying in his poetic teaching would be difficult to understand, and so he adds this statement of clarification. We can almost hear him say, “Yes, YOU are blessed when these things happen to you! You heard me right!” Christ knew that those who followed his teaching would experience opposition. Christ also knew that his life would lead through these things. The religious leaders of his day slandered him, drew trumped-up charges against him, and plotted to kill him. Christ does not lead us anywhere that he has not been.

In a word of encouragement, Jesus tells his audience that it has long been this way. The prophets, those recognized as ones who heard God, found themselves persecuted in various ways as well. By following Christ and embarking on his path of discipleship, one stands in great company in Israel’s history. The stories of the prophets are filled with pain and suffering, yet God honors their service and commitment to his heavenly kingdom.

Perhaps the oddest thing about this section is Christ’s command to rejoice and be glad during these times. How does one rejoice during times of persecution? How can one? Yet, Christ would have us do so. We rejoice because any opposition that we experience is fleeting and trivial compared with the permanence and magnitude of the Kingdom of Heaven. This also seems to be one of the realities of the Kingdom: that whatever life brings, praise is always a proper response.

Here we must be careful. Grieving is a proper response to experiencing loss. Sadness is a proper response to seeing destruction. Pain is a proper response to being wounded. Christ’s command to rejoice does not negate any of these. However, something about being a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven (where the worship never ceases) means that for those living in this reality, rejoicing and gladness are proper responses as well. This does not mean that we do not grieve, feel pain, or experience negative emotion. But when we live within the Kingdom, we position ourselves to receive God’s grace so that we can worship alongside, in the middle of, and through our responses. That doesn’t make it easy; but it does make it possible and right to do so.

Are you experiencing a situation where you’re facing opposition, loss, or destruction? Today, let us praise in addition to what we’re feeling. We might not thank God for the trial, nor rejoice that it has come; but as a citizen of the Kingdom, we do rejoice and praise because of the One whom we serve. It is always appropriate to do so.

Lord Christ, I am burdened by many things. Please give me the grace to both be honest with you about what I’m feeling and to also praise you in the midst of my experiences. Amen. 

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