Friday of Epiphany 4 – Matthew 5:1-12

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

  • And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Some years ago I had the privilege of teaching for a few days in India. Another time I taught a small group of men who were preparing for ministry in Kyrgyzstan. I have worked with people from Ethiopia and the Sudan. I have also had the privilege of getting to know fellow pastors and other servants of Christ from Spanish speaking parts of the world. God has richly blessed me in ministry. When I think back on so many of these fellow Christians, I am struck by how many of them have struggled and been persecuted in ways I have never experienced. I suppose that makes mine a first world Christianity. I cannot change that, but I can praise God and admire what He has done in others.

My friends know far better than I do what Christ means when He speaks of being reviled, persecuted, and slandered. I believe I would simply wilt before what these Christians have faced for Jesus’ sake. One watched his cousin crucified by Islamic militia men. Some have fled for their lives. What consistently struck me, when I have been with suffering Christians, is their great joy. Despite being oppressed, they are excited about Jesus and His kingdom. They did not see the persecution as a great tragedy but as a sign of their participation in the kingdom of Jesus. Jesus says to us today that we are blessed when we are persecuted. From the comfort of my North American Christianity, I have a hard time seeing that. But I do believe that Jesus has led these fellow Christians into my life because I need to see their joy and to believe that the same Jesus who has sustained and blessed them in their days of trial has made the same promise to me. I surely would fail in the day of trial, but He will not, and because He does not, I too shall stand firm. All my friends from persecuted communities tell me it is not they who are strong. It is Jesus. He blesses on the day of persecution too.