Honored are you when others revile you and persecute you
and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
The Ninth Beatitude is the capstone Beatitude in Matthew, which repeats Eighth Beatitude emphatically, in content, intensity, and position. The parallel in Luke’s Gospel is even more explicit: “Honored are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22) One commentator interprets:
The differences between Matthew and Luke reflect different settings in the Church’s mission. Persecution is a more general expression for the antagonistic behavior experienced by the Church in mission, while exclusion may well refer to the earlier, more specific mission within the synagogue setting. (Guelich 1982, 94)
Notice the verbs—revile, persecute, slander—the emphasis screams at us, the tension with others is intensified and the object of this vitriol shifts from righteousness (in general) to me (specifically). Generic persecution has become a personal attack (Wilkins 2004, 211). Tension is amplified by the shift from the third person (they) to the second person (you) (Neyrey 1998, 168). This intensification comes on top of the repetition of the Eight Beatitude and on top of being the capstone Beatitude. The emphasis here simply screams.
The verb in Greek, revile, means: “to find fault in a way that demeans the other, reproach, revile, mock, heap insults upon as a way of shaming.” (BDAG 5316.1) The noun form means: “loss of standing connected with disparaging speech, disgrace, reproach, insult.” (BDAG 5318)
The meaning of these words was perhaps intensified by Jesus’ body language. Jesus looks his disciples in the eye and addresses them as friends, like a commander knowing that when the battle begins they will have his back—this is an intense moment (Rom 5:6-8). Yet, the commander-pep-talk analogy breaks down because the disciples ultimately do not have his back and Jesus knows that he goes alone to the cross. Nevertheless, the coming cross gives urgency and intensity to this discussion. The disciples will be left behind and they must deal with persecution and revulsion on their own, especially when it involves their closest family and friends.
Reviled is used biblically in several specific contexts:
1. She conceived and bore a son and said, God has taken away my reproach. (Gen 30:23)
2. If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity. (Lev 20:17)
3. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. (Isa 25:8)
4. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. (Ps 22:6)
5. Then I said to them, You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision. (Neh 2:17)
The controlling idea in revulsion is to be left exposed to public ridicule for bareness, nakedness, or weakness. It is like a woman caught without clothes or a city without walls or, in a contemporary context, like the homeless person suffers exposure, ridicule, and abuse. Addicts and psychiatric patients may suffer similar abuse, but their exposure is less physical and more metaphorical. Jesus cites several of the above messianic passages himself, as when he cites Psalm 22 from the cross (Mark 15:34).
In these passages, Jesus addresses disciples in a communal, honor and shame culture. The Beatitudes address common themes—poverty, hunger, and mourning—shared by disciples driven out of and disinherited by their families and communities (Neyrey 1998, 168–169). The three verbs—revile, persecute, and slander—involve similar social stigma and expulsion themes, only with more intensity.
In our own context, the intensity of the response in being reviled underscores the fundamental nature of our faith decision. Jesus says:
And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:12–13)
“Jesus assumes that such a shift of loyalties will result in significant relational fallout.” (Hellerman 2001, 66)
Faith in Christ is not an incremental decision, as if we could approach God by tweaking our Sunday morning schedule, or giving more to the church, or occasionally improving our personal conduct. Faith in God is more like a wise guy renouncing the mafia or a rebel fighter responding to an amnesty program by laying down arms. Laying down arms requires a public ceremony where people on both sides notice. The public ceremony of baptism is celebrated both as sacrament of cleansing (baptism by sprinkling) and as a sacrament of death and rebirth (full immersion baptism) emphasizing the transition to faith.
The intensity of this transition to faith in the early church is often dismissed as merely an example of unity: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) While this passage is an example of unity, it is also emblematic of significant stress for the disciples, who would normally share such moments primarily with family. Absent family fellowship, the picture of unity here is like an alliance of street people watching out for one another during the winter in the face of intense deprivation.
Intense persecution marks one as a Christian, which also marks one for salvation (Rev 22:4).
Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.
BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.
Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.
Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Wilkins, Michael J. 2004. The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Persecution Gets Personal
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