My son, J, has a 'justice' streak so wide it takes up his entire back. In fact, you might just say justice is his middle name and you'd be right, for all that it's spelled Justus and is an old family name, and he actually changed
it to that when he was 18. But he has always had a difficult time with wrongs, stood up for what was right, no matter what the cost to himself. When he was a first-grader before bullying went viral (It's existed, of course, as long since Adam and Eve went looking for fig leaves), J stood up to them on behalf of a victim. One day, when a group of little boys were harassing the little Bell boy (I can't remember his first name), the teacher strode over to take matters out of their hands. But right as she reached the circle of boys, she saw J step up beside this little boy, throw his arm over the boy's shoulder and say, "Leave him alone," and then to the boy, "I'll be your friend." This made the teacher so proud she called me to tell me about it. I was proud too, though in the days that followed, that impulsive--righteous--decision made life very difficult for my son. He also became the target for bullying from boys who had previously been his friends. And that little Bell boy wasn't all that interested in being his friend either. J had done a right thing, and was persecuted for it in his small world.
Years later, when he was a junior in high school, taking AP history, J met with a group of classmates at a local Starbucks to study for a test. When he sat down, he realized that his friends had somehow gotten a copy of that test and were carefully going over the answers. He was shaken and horrified by the situation, came home and talked to us about it, and decided he had to tell. With Beve, he went first to the teacher and then to one of the assistant principals about the cheating. The teacher, who knows J (and Beve) very well, was proud of J for his integrity. The assistant principal had a completely different reaction. She did talk to them, and, of course, they denied it, and as a result she didn't believe J at all. Because, in her words, "These are the best students in the school. They wouldn't stoop to this." In other words, J must have lied for some malevolent esoteric reason.
The consequences were terrible. It was a blow to J not only not to be believed, but to be accused of actually perpetrating such a horrible lie. And his friends obviously turned their backs on him--persecuted him for his right act. Their lies could not tolerate his truth.
Lies never can. That's the message of today's Beatitude.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness..." Matthew 5: 10
Jesus says He is with those who are persecuted for doing and being what is right, for standing up for truth and being people of integrity. Psalm 41: 12 says, "In my integrity You uphold me and set me in Your presence forever." That's what Jesus means by this Beatitude. Jesus refers to a general righteousness in this Beatitude. In the following verse He adds that one is blessed to suffer for His name, but that's in a class of its own.
For those who are intent on living worthy of Christ and slaves of righteousness, persecution for righteousness' sake is likely, even inevitable in this fallen world. We are surrounded by those who cut in line, take advantage, cheat on tests and do far worse things. And there is pressure from all sides that we live in this world. But we have a different standard, which makes others uncomfortable at the very least, and holding them to that standard (as my sister told me someone has accused her) and even worse. They mock what they do not understand, belittle what they find uncomfortable, and persecute what troubles their darkness. But that's always the way it is when darkness comes in contact with light. Or the enemy with the One who saves. It is hard and lashes out and tries to snatch away. Persecute.
Jesus tells us we are feel Blessed when we get these reactions. We must understand that it all means that something is working, that He's in there with us (as Blessed means, if you'll recall). This is Kingdom work. Yes, just our very living as righteous ones among those who are in darkness is Kingdom work because it so points out the difference.
And that, my friends, is the blessing of this Beatitude, that "...theirs is the Kingdom of heaven." Just like the first Beatitude, this one reminds us that wherever we see those reactions to our lives, we can be certain that the Kingdom of heaven is in play, and is ours. It's working. We're a part of it. Don't resent those interactions, but step back and marvel at them. Welcome them as the amazing graces that they are because they proclaim that He's on the move--right there in Your very life.