In Matthew’s beatitudes, to be blessed affirms “a quality of spirituality that is already present.
“Each of the nine couplets opens with a person to whom Jesus gives the title ‘blessed,’ and in each case the matching condition follows in the second line. Couplet 9 [vs. 11–12] has extra material placed in the center. It is striking to note that in both Matthew and Luke [6:22–23] the couplet that focuses on persecution contains extra material in the center. This additional material, in both texts, begins with the negatives which are then balanced by positives. In both passages a christological affirmation appears in the center of the ‘sandwich.’ . . . These sandwiches give the topic of persecution a singular and significant emphasis. . . .
“Blessed are you when people revile you
—and persecute you
——and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely
———on my account.
——Rejoice and be glad,
—for your reward is great in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”*
We don’t have to be Christ-followers to be mistreated. The difference is that when Christ is at the center, he is both the source of joy and the focus of evil. Our righteousness (Isa 51:7), reward, and rejoicing arise from him. And it is on his account that we are reviled, persecuted and slandered.
Consider the other eight beatitudes. Which are qualities of spirituality already present in you? If it’s hard to tell, ask yourself which beatitude aggravates others when they see it in you. How is Christ the center in those areas? How have you been reviled because of them? How has he brought you joy in their midst?
*Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (London: SPCK, 2008), 66, 68, 85–86.