22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
Jesus continues with his blessing – but the blessing continues to be something we would never think of as a blessing! Even more than being poor, or mourning, persecution never seems a blessing! But Jesus says that it is – talking to his disciples (not just the 12, but all those gathered around), he knows that they will be reviled, persecuted, hated, excluded from the synagogue, and spoken of with derision. He speaks to them, again in the second person plural, he says, “When people hate you,” plural you – all of them, the gathered disciples – when they exclude you, revile, and defame you – on account of the Son of Man. He is speaking not of just any old hate, but hate for his sake. They (the religious elite, those who had something to lose in Jesus’ ministry) would, after all, hate Jesus to the extent of putting him to death. Would they not also hate his followers?
And yet, this persecution for Jesus’ sake was not a cause for alarm, but a cause for joy. After all, this is what the Jews had done to the prophets that went before them. They can expect a reward in heaven.
But Jesus is not just about rewards in heaven, in the after-life. Those gathered disciples had the honor and privilege of walking with Jesus in this life, of the community of disciples who shared life together over those years, of carrying on Jesus’ mission after his death. They were living in the kingdom of God while they lived, even if on some level, in some places, they were persecuted and hated.
We, as well, live life today – although we look forward with hope to tomorrow, we do not live only for the hope of the new life in heaven; we live today, in loving community, finding joy with the love of Christ. Especially this time of year we know the Christ child in our midst. We find joy in giving and loving others.