Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy for behold, your reward is great in heaven. (6:22-23)The contrast is between praise and insult. And amazingly in this case the insult turns into a blessing while the praise happens because of a person’s unfaithfulness and falseness. And my interest is in the idea that the people of Jesus day, who were praising what was false, were the children of those who praised false prophets in the Old Testament. (One has to consider not only those who simply gave out favorable prophecies rather than the warnings they should have delivered, but even the lascivious prophets of Baal.)
Furthermore, Jesus is himself being prophetic in that he acknowledges that in the days to come those who hold tight to him, that is abide in him, will be considered evil by others. Jesus is saying that those who live contrary to the revelation of God would rather heap praise on those who disparage the person of Christ than praise those who are faithful followers.
So having clarified that those who are insulted because of their relationship with Jesus should leap for joy—at the their coming future blessing, and that those who hear nothing but praise from those who praise false teachers should be concerned, where does that leave the orthodox in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other mainline denominations? Jesus has more to say. Yes, it is about loving your enemies, loving those who hate you, blessing those who curse and mistreat you.
There is a whole list:
1. Give to those who ask only give more than they ask.
2. Treat others like you want to be treated.
3. Love your enemies and not only that also do them good.
4. Be merciful.
5. Do not judge and condemn but rather pardon. (Note this is very personal and has nothing to do with calling the sinner to repentance—note James 5:19-20—which in reality is doing the sinner good.)
But then there is something more, not in this particular text but in Matthew 5:43-48, which also has to do with the beatitudes. I am using this because Dietrich Bonhoeffer, using the text, offers some thoughts on the future and the love that is required of Christians for enemies. This is hard but I believe it is time to reread it. Bonhoeffer was writing about his day, but it has some relevance again. Bonhoeffer wrote it in 1937 with the Nazis in power, but he looks back to the beginnings of the problems that then existed. The Church was already partially divided and the Synod of Barmen had already met and produced the Declaration of Barmen. Some pastors were in prison. There is of course a very great difference, except in some other countries, but the words are important:
The commandment, that we should love our enemies and forgo revenge will grow more urgent in the holy struggle which lies before us and in which we partly have been engaged for years. In it love and hate engage in mortal combat. It is the urgent duty of every Christian soul to prepare itself for it. The time is coming when the confession of the living God will incur not only the hatred and the fury of the world, for on the whole it has come to that already, but complete ostracism from ‘human society,’ as they call it. The Christian will be hounded from place to place, subjected to physical assault, maltreatment and death of every kind. We are approaching an age of widespread persecution. Therein lies the true significance of all the movements and conflicts of our age. Our adversaries seek to root out the Christian Church and the Christian faith because they cannot live side by side with us. …Bonhoeffer goes on to speak of the battle that is to be fought—by prayer:
And what prayer, what confession, what hymn of praise will it be? It will be a prayer of earnest love for these very sons of perdition who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred ... It will be a prayer for the peace of these erring, devastated and bewildered souls, a prayer for the same love and peace which we ourselves enjoy, a prayer which will penetrate to the depths of their souls and rend their hearts more grievously than anything they can do to us.There is much more to read. It can be found in The Cost of Discipleship.
This is a call to prayer, love and abiding in Christ, staying close to the one who has called us. My husband and I recently attended a Catholic Mass for a dear friend who recently went to be with the Lord; she taught music and led a community choir in Northern California for many years. There was a procession at the beginning which included her husband. I will never forget the expression on his face as he passed us. He walked with a cross held tightly to his chest, and he held it so tightly and with such determination on his face I could believe he would never put it down. That is our calling.