(A) Introduction.

When Christians think of persecution it is usually that which attends the preaching of the Gospel and is suffered by the preacher of it or those converted by it. Such persecution is not really surprising and is likely to be experienced by anyone who endeavours to publicly persuade others to change their allegiance as, for example, a Tory politician canvassing for votes in a Labour stronghold. Whenever conversions occur, whether they be religious or political, someone stands to lose. A rival faith may lose adherents. This was undoubtedly one of the main reasons Paul was so persecuted by the Jews in the Gentile cities in which he preached. Congregations at the synagogues declined as Jews, or proselytes to Judaism, defected to Christianity. Conversions to Christianity break friendships and disrupt family life. They may even affect a man's livelihood. Some sort of adverse reaction is inevitable in these circumstances and must be expected. No persecution is welcome but to anticipate it does considerably soften the blow. I think Jesus was referring to the sort of persecution that isn't expected and can catch us with our guard down - persecution for being good. This is the persecution for actually living the way Jesus recommends in the preceding eight Beatitudes; persecution for being poor in spirit, meek, repentant, a doer of good, pure hearted, kind and a peacemaker. So the final Beatitude harmonises with all the rest.

(B) The home coming of the Good Samaritan

I wonder what sort of homecoming the Good Samaritan had. Perhaps it was something like this. He stands thankfully outside his front door in the small Samaritan quarter of Jerusalem. Yesterday had been a long, tense, day. He goes in. Scarcely has he got his sandals off before the cross-examination begins:
"Where have you been? You said you would be home yesterday evening. Where did you spend the night?"
"I'm sorry, dear, but I had to help some poor Jew who had been robbed and left half dead on the hard shoulder of the Jericho road. I got him to an inn and stopped with him overnight."
"You what! You mean to say I've been worried clean out of my mind on account of a miserable Jew. Do you think he would have helped you? It is a pity you don't care as much about me."
"He was in a bad way. If I had not helped him he would have died."
"Where is this Jew now. You haven't bought him here?"
"No, I left him at the inn."
"And how much did that cost you."
"The usual rate - about 160 for a couple of nights."
"160!! Did you take the man's name?"
"No, he wasn't well enough for that."
"Well that's the last we shall see of the money. Fancy wasting 160 on a Jew. You know how they treat us - worse than lepers. People will start calling you the Silly Samaritan. You make me mad."

She was mad! Too mad to get her husband supper and mad enough to turn her back on him in bed. She wasn't a bad wife but her man had been late on a bad day. Once she started on him she couldn't stop. Next morning the Samaritan's wife felt ashamed and so, whilst out shopping in the market, she justified her behaviour by telling her friends how stupid her husband had been.

The Good Samaritan was persecuted, reviled and misrepresented for righteousness sake - for being merciful. This is the hardest persecution to take, especially from your wife, and particularly from a loving wife.

(C) The last Beatitude doesn't stand on its own.

The last Beatitude is not the odd one out. The first seven deal with what you have to be for blessedness. The last appears to deal with something that happens to you. However, persecution such as the Samaritan suffered only happens to a special kind of person; one whom it is safe to persecute.

In our church fellowship complaints have usually been made to one particular elder. If anyone wants a good moan they go and see Edward. They do not approach me! Why is this? It is probably because Edward listens sympathetically, he is kind and suffers long, whereas I have a reputation for a fiery temper and a sharp tongue. It is safe to have a good moan to Edward.

Who are safe to persecute? Firstly there are those who are so committed to righteousness that they will persist in it whatever the cost. They hunger and thirst after it. Children take advantage of parents, pupils of teachers, and church members of pastors secure in the knowledge that those on whom they depend are dedicated to their well being. I can remember railing at a group of 'A' level students who were making little effort to help themselves and saying, "You don't deserve a hard working teacher. I wish I could just give up on you and leave you to the consequences of your idleness. You all deserve to fail." These are the gist of my remarks; I was more eloquent at the time. One fresh faced youth, who later became a Church of England clergyman, quietly interjected, "But you can't do it can you Sir." He was right. I was so committed to my job that those boys could safely harass and distress their teacher.

It is safe to disparage the efforts of the merciful and the peacemaker if their righteousness springs from pure motives. The pure in heart are not easily discouraged because they do not operate to gain popularity, applause, credit or renown. Jesus continued to heal on the Sabbath regardless of the opposition this aroused because he healed out of compassion for the sick. The pure in heart have strength of purpose that the hypocrite will always lack.

The persecutors of those that mourn their sin and who rely on God's forgiveness are in little danger of retaliation. The unforgiving nature, quick to repay evil with evil, is self-righteous and pharisaical. One of my weaknesses, and one I certainly mourn, is a tendency to lash out when I feel threatened. I have three brothers and one of them is like me in this respect. I find it much easier to forgive him for reacting with disproportionate vigour to a perceived injury than do my other two brothers who do not share his weakness.

It is much safer to tease a tame dog than a wild bear. Some large, powerful, dogs are extraordinarily gentle with little children and tolerant of all the irritating attention that they receive. They can be pushed, pulled, prodded, and pummelled with impunity. Moses was like that. It was safe to slander Moses for he was the meekest man on earth. His self-control made him a safe person to persecute.

Clearly a man who displays any of the qualities highlighted in the Beatitudes is safe to persecute. In a way Jesus' happy man invites persecution and for none of the Kingdom's heroes is this truer than for the poor in spirit. Humility is the most despised and least regarded of all the Christian virtues. Alexander Solzenitsen wrote about Matryona, a humble peasant woman. After she died her family acknowledged her kindness and simplicity, as well they might for she worked for her brothers and sisters without payment, but they did so in tones of scornful pity. This is a common reaction to the lowly hearted. Humbleness is a virtue so far removed from normality that we react to it in much the same way as to a freak of nature - with amused contempt.

One of the saddest episodes in the life of Jesus was the reaction of the people of Nazareth to his teaching. See Mt 13v53to58. No town had a more illustrious son. At the bitter end Pilate was to identify him as Jesus of Nazareth. The town he graced for nearly sixteen years as the resident carpenter was offended at him. One of the main reasons for the contempt of the Nazarites was undoubtedly Jesus' humility. He was meek and lowly of heart, not only during the days of his public ministry, but during the long years that he practiced his craft. His customers took him for granted and probably spoke of their tradesman with the same condescension as Matryona's family spoke of her - acknowledging his workmanship but with scornful pity at his lack of drive and strange business methods. If Jesus practised in Nazareth what he later preached, he would not have been a very shrewd businessman!

Nicodemus, while conceding that Jesus was a teacher who has come from God because of the miracles he performed, still judged him deficient in the qualities to be expected in the Messiah of popular conception. SeeJohn3v1to12. Jesus lacked the ambition, flair for publicity and charisma to be a great political leader. This apparent deficiency was actually a great virtue. Jesus was humble hearted and submissive to the will of his father in heaven. What seemed a weakness to the Nazarites and Nicodemus was applauded by God who said at Jesus' baptism, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Matthew3v17. God the Father was well satisfied with all those quiet years spent in the carpenter's shop of Nazareth.

There is none it is safer to persecute than the meek and poor in spirit. Jesus had enormous and devastating power at his command but he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent. Is53v7. At his arrest there was just a moment when the rabble glimpsed his glory and fell back in awe. Then it was veiled and in obedience to his father's will he submitted to the ultimate persecution.

(D) The joy of the persecuted

If we are persecuted for being righteous we are righteous indeed. Persecution is a sure testimony that we are the sort of person of whom the Beatitudes are true. We have passed the test and shown ourselves to be of proven worth. Paul writes, we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. Romans5v3. Sometimes character itself produces sufferings but these too are a cause for hope. We have shown ourselves to be like Christ and thereby demonstrated that we are his joint heirs with the hope of glory. So Jesus encourages us to rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. Mt5v12.