Almost as soon as it became apparent that God had come down to earth and made His abode with us, His presence was seen a disgrace to those who didn't understand or believe. Mary was pretty much shown the door of her family home, was practically thrown out of town had not God stepped in and told Joseph to go ahead and marry her. All because of His presence not only in her life but her very body. And while that baby was still so small He was barely able to hold up His head, Mary and Joseph were running for their lives from the persecution that was on its was to Him. He wasn't even a month old and the world was already gunning for Him.
That's how this whole 'following Jesus' started. In disgrace and persecution--at least from the world's point of view.
But somehow, we expect it to be easy to be His followers. We're surprised when people find Christian views offensive and intolerant. When our culture thinks we're too narrow-minded and too-- well, too much of some things and not enough of others. But we should never be surprised that the world doesn't get who He is, and we certainly shouldn't expect the world to understand why His followers act as they do. Why they lay down their nets, walk away from their earthly goods, don't grab and reach and want their own glory. And all those things we choose or don't choose--out of love. The world SHOULD judge us. That is to say, we should be offensive to the world. We should be so different in the way we live and respond to situations that they cannot help but see a difference in our lives. And if we're offensive to others, we're sharing in a blessing that is as old as our very faith itself. If we're disgraced for our beliefs, we share our lot with a long line all the way back to Mary. And if we're persecuted, back to the apostles whose attitude about persecution is astonishing: "They left [the Sandhedrin] rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer for His name." (Acts 5:41)
Think of that--think of rejoicing when you're persecuted. Rejoicing that you share in the sufferings of Christ. This attitude is light years away from how we look at sufferings most of the time. We like to think in terms of metaphors when we think of suffering at all. We don't really want to suppose that we might ACTUALLY be persecuted for our faith, after all. Not really. But if we take the words of the New Testament seriously, if we take the words of the Beatitudes seriously, we must consider it not merely a possibility, but a promise.
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad..."
There have been times in my 40 years of walking with Jesus when people have insulted me personally for my beliefs. I've felt hurt, angry and, as I've grown older, sad when this happens. I've sometimes felt judged by misconceptions, if that makes sense. But the truth is, I am not the one who is actually being insulted in these situations. Both the general misconceptions people think about Christ (and His followers) and the specific ones they believe about me are because of HIM, He says in this verse. Then He tells us to rejoice in such things.
This is as counter-intuitive a notion as one could have. Rejoice when one is ridiculed? Be glad when one says all kinds of evil against you? Yes. Yes. Yes. He said He came to bring a sword, and such reactions to His followers, even here in the 'free' west where we will not be martyred for our faith, reminds us of that sword.
"...great is your reward..." Jesus promises. I completely convinced that we already have that reward. We already have what the world wants (even if they don't know it). That joy of ours, that gladness in the face of all that enmity is only possible because we already have that reward. We can't manufacture such joy on our own. It comes because we get, with a lightness of being that comes because the great I AM became a man named Jesus. And now, because we have taken hold of Him who took hold of us, we are aided and abetted in joy--no matter how the world treats us!
Consider yourself worthy the next time someone insults you--for His sake. That we should be so worthy...because what those apostles felt was that each insult, each suffering was a little like what Jesus suffered on our behalf, a suffering that changed everything for them. Perhaps there is no finer moment, no moment of our lives MORE like Him (or more likely to make us like Him) than when we suffer because of and for Him.
Blessed are you...to suffer for His name.