Sticks and Stones
Matthew 5: 11
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
In the Greek world it was not uncommon if you wanted to make a name for yourself, you did just that. You would employ one or possibly a few men to follow you around as you walk through Athens and as you did so they would say in loud voices what a great man you were. If you engaged in debate again they would clap cheer and loudly exclaim what a brilliant point you had just made regardless of whether what you said was truly statesmanlike or complete drivel Similarly when your opponent spoke they would mock and deride everything they said wondering loudly how any human could possibly think such utter tosh. The one thing that would have no bearing on the comments was the strength of either side of the argument (those less generous than I might say Fox News in USA does exactly that today – but I couldn’t possibly comment). If a case came to court the same people would turn up to say what a great guy their employer was and what a total numpty his adversary was, again no credence would be given to the merits and legality of the actual case. This derision also extended to the supporters of the other man they by association were fair game to be derided and insulted.
Sometimes the system was used for higher purposes. Philip of Macedonia , Alexander The Great’s father, also had such a man but in his case it was the supporter’s job to come to Philip every morning as he was getting dressed and whisper in his ear “Remember Mighty King, one day you too will die” This was to keep Philip’s feet planted on the ground despite what others during the day would tell him about how great he was.
This Greek tradition was also common in Roman culture and Jesus would be well aware of the practice. He knew that many would not take kindly to a new way of living a new way of relating to God and he knew that his supporters if not physically persecuted would be subject to insults and invective. Lies would be told to discredit them, false accusation made left right and centre. To see how accurate this prediction was have a read of Acts and see how often that happened to Paul and his company.
The reason for the insults would be to discourage and perhaps even change the belief in Jesus, but here Jesus fore arms his followers. Nothing the World can throw at you even comes close to matching the rewards you will receive in life and beyond by following him. A few years ago a leading atheist wrote an article in which she made comment that a large proportion of Hospice staff are Christians, this she said was so they could torture (her word) the dying by unnecessarily keeping patients alive thus prolonging their suffering. The article was answered by a letter from one such nurse who quietly calmly and yes lovingly demolished the atheist’s argument piece by piece No insults sent back just a calm statement of her reasons for doing her job which was making the last weeks of someone’s life as painless and dignified as humanly possible. She was she concluded specially blessed to able to do her work.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, this is the day that you have made, we will rejoice and be glad in it. We will walk with our heads held high for we know you are with us, let us cry Glory in all we think say and do as we praise your Holy name.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,