In this week’s gospel reading at Mass we hear the Beatitudes, the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the merciful,” etc.) explain the way our hearts and minds should be if we truly wish to have a proper relationship with God. Being meek and humble and forgiving are essential; being arrogant and prideful and deceptive are bad news.
All of the Beatitudes describe a godly attitude or action and then give the resulting reward for it. All, that is, except one. The very last “Blessed are…” that Jesus offered does not deal with a particular personality trait we should strive for. It discusses what is likely to happen to us because we follow Jesus.
The last Beatitude says: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me….your reward will be great in heaven.”
OK, that great reward in heaven part sounds OK. But what about the first part? Insults, persecutions, false accusations? Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve already got enough troubles.
Jesus knew from the start that people who followed Him were going to rub other people the wrong way. And I’m not talking about crusaders, inquisitors, racists, chauvinists, etc. who distort the Gospel for their own selfish purposes. I’m not even talking about the knuckleheads on TV who are always begging viewers to get out their credit cards and send in another “love offering.” I’m talking about those folks who do it right: the people who successfully combine genuine love and mercy for their fellow man with an understanding that God has proclaimed a very clear definition of right and wrong.
I know all about the insults and false accusations to which Jesus referred. No, not because I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of persecution. (You see, hanging around almost exclusively with “my own kind” and presenting my opinions from the solitude of a computer keyboard significantly cuts down the chances of confrontation and conflict.)
My understanding of this last Beatitude is based on plenty of experience from the giving end of the insults and false accusations. Way back in my hedonistic atheist days, there was nothing that would tick me off quicker than some Christian saying that God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life. And the more sincere and humble he or she was, the angrier I’d get.
The insults and put-downs and sarcastic comments would stream out of me like Don Rickles on crack. I’d accuse them of all kinds of sinister hidden motives. They wanted to take over the country; they wanted to oppress people; they wanted my money; they wanted to keep women barefoot and pregnant; and worst of all, they wanted to IMPOSE their intolerant values on me.
But deep down what really angered me (or maybe scared me?) about those Christians was the possibility that they might be right. If they were right, if there really was a divine Being who created the world, then that meant I was not the center of the universe—or at least the center of MY universe. I could not define right and wrong for myself. I could not do whatever I wanted whenever I felt like it. It was a scenario which directly challenged my stubborn pride. My instinctive defense mechanism was anger.
Jesus knew that many people would react angrily to the Gospel message. To accept Jesus’ teachings means we must stop worshipping ourselves and worship God instead. It’s not easy. A lot of people are going to say nasty things about us and to us. But if we can get past our stubborn pride and our desire always to be comfortable, the blessings and rewards that God showers upon us are truly amazing.