The final beatitude (Matthew 5:11-12) like all the rest of the beatitude takes what we would regard as a negative–persecution for the sake of righteousness–and reveals that in the economy of God it is a good thing.
Persecuted or Annoying?
It’s important to emphasize, especially with this beatitude, that the Beatitudes name the experience and effect of Discipleship. They do not offer a legalistic set of standards that we should strive after. In other words, we all know people who go looking for persecution. It’s not godly. It’s just annoying.
Persecution for the Kingdom
Even so, the Gospels were written on the other side of the resurrection and after the ascension. They were written with a clear awareness that missionaries get arrested, apostles get beheaded, and saviors get crucified. As the Kingdom of God advances into the world it confronts the Kingdoms of the Earth. And the Kingdoms of the Earth rebel. That rebellion takes the form of persecution. So Jesus answered encouraged the Disciples to interpret the suffering of persecution as blessing.
Certainly as we reflect on this Beatitude we could think of the persecuted saints through the centuries. Among my favorite heroes of the faith are Watchman Nee, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ida B. Wells, and Martin Luther King–all of whom suffered persecution for their stands. In the name of Jesus Christ, they spoke truth to power and they suffered because of it. If we are to faithfully follow Christ in this world, we too must be willing to speak truth to power. Even if the power to which we speak has the power to do us harm.