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. (Matthew 5:9-12)
One of my favorite things to teach youth and children is the story of Cain and Abel. After Cain has killed his brother, for what reason we remain unsure, God appears on the scene. And like any good parent, God asks a prodding question while already knowing the answer. Cain, like every good teenager, and most adults I know, retorts “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Then God speaks of how the blood of the fallen is calling out of the very earth from which our bodies were drawn.
The lesson of this classic Biblical story from Genesis is that yes, you are your brother and your sisters’ keeper. Who is your brother and your sister – everyone. Every single human being on this planet, no matter what they look like, what language they speak, how they pray, what they love like, which life they have or what they have done. Those things do matter, they offer opportunities for us to learn from one another. However, when it comes to how we treat our fellow children of God, we do not get to be choosy.
Throughout the Scriptures, God shows us time and again, that God’s favorites are not the ones in power, the ones who use force, the ones who teach domination. God called a murderer with a stutter to deliver God’s people. God chose the stinkiest, smelliest, forgotten human beings in Palestine to be the first to hear the good tidings on Christmas. God picked an unwed teenage girl, pretty much the lowest of the low in class structure, to bear God’s own self into the world. Our God is one who cares for the orphan and the widow, the alien and the outcast. Jesus ate with sinners, touched the unclean and sick, and told women to go preach the first sermon.
Though Jesus did die for all, he spent his lifetime on this earth drawing attention to all the people that the world forgot. The ones who those in power trampled. The ones that the religious people didn’t want for piety’s sake. It’s not that God didn’t care about all of us. It’s the God wants us to care about all of us and, sometimes, that means pointing out our blindsides.
So here is the true secret of the beatitudes. Even if you learn from your hard times, even when you open your eyes to the pain around you, even when you turn the other cheek to stand with the humble, or feel the fire in your belly to stand against oppression, even when you give up your moralizing religious practices and show the mercy God has shown you, or begin to see the face of Christ in every person around you, and even if you learn what it means to make peace in a world drowning in injustice, none of those are the ultimate way to live your faith.
The way the world will truly know that you are Christ’s disciple – is when you start getting hounded for loving others. God does not care who you hate. Scratch that, God does not even want you to hate. Jesus certainly didn’t. God wants you and me to learn how to display the same love that God has given us. When we extend our circle to bring others in, when we invite the untouchable, welcome the supposed abomination, and give our lives to the forgotten – then we are truly following in Christ’s footsteps.
So let this be an encouragement to us in the days ahead. These words are written on the wall of the sisters of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order in Calcutta:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.