The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
For the Sake of
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For the Sake of

Exploring a Solid "Why"
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I’m dipping back into the Beatitudes this week. Earlier this year I wrote a lot about them ahead of a speaking engagement in which I danced through them. Just a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak about them again. No dancing this time, though. Thanks in large part to the teaching of Dallas Willard the Beatitudes have become central to my journey. They are, in my estimation, a concise vision of what life in the Kingdom of God might be like – a vision of the good life. Considering much of what is happening in the world, I find this proposition of life a worthy thing to contemplate.

The Beatitudes guide the reader (or listener) through a series of positions in life – poor in spirit, mourning, and meekness, for example – and the experience such a person may have in God’s Kingdom. The experience of one in God’s Kingdom is rightly set against the common experience of the same person in the “world” – that is the regular organization of life as we can observe it. Given this context, it is worth considering that the Beatitudes don’t end on a high note. One might expect a complete vision of the Kingdom of God to end with something amazing. Maybe something like, “…and your life will have no trouble and be all you could ever ask for.”

Thankfully, the Beatitudes are more realistic than that. Following a vision in which those in God’s Kingdom can expect to see God and be called children of God (both radical propositions of intimacy), the Beatitudes talk about persecution.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Book of Matthew
Chapter 5, Verse 10, The King James Version

The Beatitudes don’t really end there. In a kind of anticipation of the questions such a statement will bring to mind, Jesus continues in the book of Matthew.

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Book of Matthew, Chapter 5, Verses 11-12, The King James Version

Imagine a world in which we might be happy, in the truest sense of that word, because of the persecution we face.

The Beatitudes as Spiritual Formation

We should take a step back and talk about the idea of the Beatitudes as a journey of formation. One way to read the Beatitudes is as a progressive journey of spiritual maturing. The one who sees that they are poor in spirit may still receive the Kingdom of God. The one who receives God’s Kingdom, when experiencing acute grief, also experiences God’s comfort. The one who receives God’s comfort experiences a unique opportunity for meekness, and the promise of inheritance. And they continue likewise – experience and promise – in a cycle of formation.

Preceding the idea of being happy because of persecution, we find ourselves having just seen God on account of a singularity of heart and become recognizable as a child of God on account of an active disposition of peacemaking. These are intense experiences. Singularity of heart (the wanting of only one thing) and peacemaking (the active pursuit of inner and outer peace) stand against the more common and evident modes of wanting everything, everywhere, all at once, and entertaining all the things of war – offense, violence, contempt, and anger, for example. In this environment, it is little wonder that someone who reaches the stage we are exploring now – having gone into the business of peacemaking – will encounter resistance if not outright persecution.

What Then?

When stated this way, the persecution seems like a forgone conclusion. “Life will be hard,” we may think, and we may be right. We may experience cognitive dissonance at the ease with which others navigate their lives. We may even ask ourselves, “Why do they get such an easy road?” In this case, it is an easy road on account of a particular kind of blindness or inactivity. They don’t see the need for something different, nor do they have the desire to change, nor have they tried. Maybe they do see the need, but feel helpless in the pursuit, and have instead resolved to accept the status quo. Comparing ones own journey with that of others is quite fruitless, so we shall maintain a different focus.

For the young in spiritual maturity, the proposition of persecution may be frightening or seen as something that must happen as proof of maturity. Both are self-defeating responses. The frightened will find themselves adjusting for the sake of avoiding possible resistance. Those somehow enlivened by the thought of being persecuted run the risk of aiming for persecution where none need be found. They will make a war just to say that they have been persecuted.

The more mature spiritual person will have learned that if there is to be fear, it should be toward the one who has power over the physical and spiritual, not just the physical. Namely, God. They will have found out that persecution is not something to conjure. It will come naturally in the work of peacemaking. It need not be aimed for. There is blessing in good work done with ease, and that can be received with gratitude. Not everything needs to be a challenge, battle, or war. Instead, the more mature will be ready when it comes, knowing it will come, but not itching for it.

The readiness, I think, comes from an immersion in the sake for which the persecution is coming. The persecution is not the focus of the beatitude – that is the reality. The sake of righteousness – doing what God would want to be done; the sake of Jesus Christ – doing what Jesus Christ would do, even being a representative of these things; these are the things that are the natural output of a person at this stage. Such a person will naturally come upon resistance, even persecution, but they will be readied for such things. The possibility of resistance, even persecution would not deter them.

Why Not?

Imagine being immersed in such a good thing, that whatever comes at you, doesn’t derail your pursuit of it. How good must that thing be? Just imagine for a minute something that good. Is there something that comes to mind? If it’s physical (a house, car, career, perhaps), try thinking beyond that. I’m talking about something that fits the tale of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. The vision of the Kingdom of God, of being with God, is the kind of thing that is so good, that we are easily willing to give up whatever we might need to for its sake. Can you imagine that?

Approaching choices from the negative may be useful here. If something or even someone isn’t worth the effort, maybe it is time to rethink what we are doing, or who we are doing it with. Now, it is a terribly sad day when a human being isn’t worth the effort, but I acknowledge that those days come. A kind of grief also comes for me when a thing I’ve been committed to comes to an end – whether it is by my choice or not. This is also a reality that needs tending to. But what we are talking about here is always worth the effort.

The way I am describing the Kingdom of God may sound quite aspirational. You may think, “Is this guy serious?” Completely. The clarity of a vision so dramatically different than the common experience of the world helps brings into focus for me the required commitment to the aspirational. The grounded nature of the Kingdom of God is such that it addresses the reality of the world head on – the peacemakers will be persecuted, offenses will come. This isn’t about some dreamland that is always just an arms length away, hovering out of one’s reach. This is about the real life experience of someone who has aspired, and attained, the position of walking with God. It includes real attempts at change from the inside, real encounters with others along the way, and real ways of experiencing a different kind of life.

The fact that persecution is the end of the Beatitudes might give any one of us pause. It does for me, and Jesus Christ was known to give many people pause. This is not a bad thing. It is only prudent to count the cost of a pursuit before going. The thing that may get buried in the counting is the worthiness of the goal. We may be challenged with the realities of current state of the world, even the pursuit of change towards something better, for ourselves and the world around us. Hopefully, in the midst of all that, we can keep the goal – nothing short of the good life, a life lived in the loving community of God – in front of us.

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The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Andrew Nemr, a critically acclaimed tap dance artist, explores the intersection of creativity and spiritual formation.
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