We tackled the word difficult word ‘righteous’ earlier in this series of reflections. As a brief reminder, righteousness means, in simple terms, to act and live in right relationship. Let us clarify righteousness as seeking a ‘right relationship’ with Godself in the context of this Beatitude’s blessing.
Well, if a person is living, behaving, choosing, and speaking in ways that honor ethics and core values – righteously — why would they be persecuted? The late Civil Rights activist and Congressional representative John Lewis famously urged people to make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’
Given that framework, we can imagine that standing up for your beliefs, getting involved with a cause that motivates you to make others uncomfortable, provokes a reaction. You may simply be acting on your principles, not attempting to convert others to your way of thinking, but the choice to engage in any form of activism or advocacy can put you in the position of being a target. Any act to make a difference, to live and act righteously, and not complacently, may draw someone else’s criticism or judgment.
Yet another saying is ‘silence is violence’. Thus, if the choice is to do nothing and allow harm to continue, or do something and help create healing change, we are called to act.
Simply caring enough to choose or act — for righteousness sake — means you’re going to make some ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’ And someone else will object!
Back to persecution: you didn’t start the persecution. Nor did you invite it. Yet it’s happening. Or has already happened. Or will happen.
Maybe your level of involvement in change-making is restricted to personal acts such as financially supporting organizations, voting your conscience, or writing to government representatives on issues that draw your concern. Maybe you stay private and keep to the background.
Or maybe you’re public in your support for others. Righteousness, after all, is usually expressing care for the wellbeing of others. You share your choices and views. Volunteer for an agency or organization that responds to problems about which you are passionate. Post on social media. Document. Bear witness. Report. Reach out. Get involved. Put yourself on the line.
Either way, in this small-town world in which we live —and this technologically-connected environment in which we function—often our views and choices become known to others. Along the way, somehow, we become targets for persecution, because we care.
We explored, yesterday, that ‘persecution’ might include a range of experiences. It could involve anything from being socially bullied and criticized to being arrested and imprisoned. Depends on where you live and who took exception.
Regardless of whether persecution was intended to reach you, or you were a bystander swept into the event or experience, the result is hurtful and harmful. It’s a tough experience. Persecution leaves a mark, either inside — emotionally and psychologically—or on your wellbeing physically and socially. Victim-blaming can also reverse the attention, so that people hold you responsible for what happens to you, instead of looking at the perpetrators.
What is our consolation and comfort in response to persecution? Even for righteous reasons? The Beatitudes have already extolled the resilience of people who have felt powerless, hurt, sad, marginalized, invisible, isolated, imprisoned, starved, excluded. The Beatitudes describe the tenacious nature of human beings. And envision that the world in which we live, and the people we meet, will offer the resources we need to cope.
We are not alone. God shows up, not just as an invisible conversation partner on the other end of a prayer to heaven, but as the muscular and tangible love and justice and compassion we receive in our lifetimes.
Being the victim or target of persecution, even due to faith, isn’t okay. God doesn’t desire for us to suffer or to be tested, as if we’re in some sort of trial, passing an exam, or in the process of being refined and perfected through loss and trauma.
Bluntly, you don’t have to be persecuted to be righteous. The Beatitudes aren’t an instruction manual on how to become righteous. It’s the opposite. It’s recognition that being righteous can be dangerous. And yet we’re already choosing to be those people who care—and act out of care—for ethical and spiritual reasons. For righteousness sake.
Along those lines, please know that God doesn’t make persecution—and other damaging things—happen. Rather God shows up in the response to such experiences. God’s intentions for us are creative, good, loving, healing, holistic, and merciful.
Persecution is definitely a human-made condition. A social challenge.
Godself knows that the world isn’t perfect. After all, people aren’t perfect. People are part of God’s creation, and creation is already a living system full of messy beings. Also, as humans live in society together, people create systems and institutions that embody and perpetuate social wrongs and subtle forms of persecution. And Godself cannot protect and shield us from living in this world. God doesn’t promise—on earth—an end to suffering. We’re not exempted from the full experience of being mortal.
In fact, sometimes those who are persecuted are also embodying God’s response to others. We’re showing up for someone else, and in the course of doing so, we’re becoming the ones who need someone else’s help, too.
Yet in our faith, we believe God walked among us, incarnate as Jesus, to know us better. Godself abides with us, even now, as Spirit. God knows firsthand what it feels like to be a vulnerable human being. To do the right thing. To stand for what you believe in. To speak and act for the wellbeing of others. And to be questioned, invalidated, challenged, judged, ostracized or tormented for it. Even killed over it.
God didn’t start the persecution. Yet God is accompanying you on this righteous—right relationship— journey you’re taking. Into fires. Through trials. Beyond judgment. On the streets. In the hospital waiting room. On the Facebook page. In prison. Along the trail. At home. Among the Twitter feeds. In the classroom. Behind the wheel. At the shop. On the mountain. Past death itself to where love lives.
What is the ultimate force behind what we do for righteousness’ sake? Love. Holy love. Love’s alive, here, among us. — Rev Gail
If a man perfectly righteous should come upon earth, he would find so much opposition that he would be imprisoned, reviled, scourged, and in fine crucified by such, who, though they were extremely wicked, would yet pass for righteous men. — Plato
The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armour of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. — John Dos Passos
Righteousness is the truth revealed and working in you. — Sherry White
Desire of righteousness is preceded by repentance, accompanied by humility, and followed by works of mercy. — Gaultier
Challenge or Question: Have you ever needed to respond to a situation wherein someone else was being persecuted? How did you respond?