Blessed are the Persecuted

The Christian scriptures are no longer the major component of religious education for most Unitarian Universalists; there are so many world religions to cover. That doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from them, because there are some important ideas and cultural touchstones that make it important, even necessary to talk about the Bible on occasion. One such passage is the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the fifth chapter of Matthew.

3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In this passage, Jesus lifts up the people who society has oppressed. That is a fundamental part of social justice work. We cannot miraculously achieve equality from an unequal starting point. Equality can only come through either lifting up the oppressed or bringing down the privileged. Generally, the former is more peaceful than the latter.

 It is important that we understand this now-ancient wisdom. The whole of human history has seen the privileged fighting to maintain the status quo (where even those who would see a more just world want to make sure that justice isn’t too disruptive) and the oppressed working to get their fair share knowing that change will be disruptive. We’ve tried to change that with technology and education, but it is a stubborn truth. Justice is disruptive to an unjust system. The oppressed must be lifted up, artificially if necessary, so that they can achieve whatever it is they have always been capable of, or the privileged must be brought down, so that their privilege no longer serves as a barrier to others’ achievement. It was true at the beginning of the common era, and it is true today.

We must bless the meek, the hungry, and the persecuted. We must affirm that Black lives matter. We must provide for those who lack opportunity in education, nutrition, and both physical and mental health. We must do this if we seek justice, because they cannot simply rise above their circumstance when they cannot fairly compete in a shallow job market and a shaky economy. They cannot pull themselves up because they’ve been given so little to hold on to. We must make changes, and they will have to be disruptive to be effective, and they will require our discomfort and our sacrifice of privilege. Is the beloved community worth it to us?

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