January 27, 2018
From day to day I hear the word “blessed” thrown around with ease and without consideration for what we really mean. In most contexts in which I hear the phrase, “I am so blessed.” It is out of gratitude and thankfulness for what they have. Which is different from saying one is blessed. To be thankful for something means something different than how blessed is used throughout the scriptures.
Some may take the beatitudes and switch out the word happy for blessed. “Happy are those who are poor in spirit it, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Happy are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Happy re those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
The substituting the word happy or joyful seems to miss the presence of suffering and yearning within these statements. Those who mourn aren’t all of a sudden happy because they will be comforted. There may be assurance in that statement but doesn’t change their current emotional state. Being meek doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Being a peacemaker or one who works for righteousness in the world, doesn’t always equate to happiness just because.
Instead to look at the presence of blessing in these statements is to recognize God continually showing preference for the least of these. In these statements we hear of God’s favor for each of these groups. God is paying special attention to those who mourn, those who are poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Whether their life circumstances have caused them to be in one or more of these areas, or through conscious decisions they have chosen to show mercy and strive for righteousness, or peace, their lives have been named as those that have God’s favor. They are blessed.
As we also continue to consider how we speak to God’s blessing, I am always reminded of a conversation with my peers as we sat in a circle of rocking chairs as we were debriefing from a long day of learning through experience in Managua Nicaragua. It turned into a deconstruction of how we as North Americans overuse, or misuse the word blessed, when we instead mean, happy or thankful.
We had spent days traveling around Managua, learning about the culture, and what the churches were doing in that area. We were listening to what they found to be important to their lives and their faith. But we also saw poverty, to a much larger extent than we know here in the US. We saw how greed caused immense harm. We heard of those places in which groups came into the area in response to a massive earthquake to help, but refused to listen and hear what was needed. We heard of the hundreds of families that live, work, and learn in the city dump.
What does it mean when we say that we who have the means, and the ability to travel to other countries to learn and experience, from the safety of vans, compounds, and guides, to say that we are blessed in doing so? When we claim that we have God’s favor for having such an opportunity that is not afforded to others? We all recognized that we were thankful for such opportunities, and that we have been changed by them, but did we actually deserve to claim God’s favor for an opportunity that most do not have?
The Gospel of Luke in chapter 6 has a similar text as Matthew with a significant change. In Luke we see both sides of the coin of blessings and woes. “Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice 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. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of your, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’”
In both Matthew and Luke, we find these texts at the beginning of Jesus’ sermon to the crowd that has gathered near him, after he has been at work in the countryside healing the sick, casting out demons, and working with the least of these. So those that Jesus finds himself speaking to include those that he has already been working with and declaring the good news through his actions. Others that have gathered are those that have heard what he has been doing and have drawn near to hear what he has to say.
Jesus opens the significant teaching moments of his ministry, the sermon on the mount in Matthew, and the sermon on the plains in Luke, with these statements of blessing. Blessing the least of these, not those who have all their needs and wants cared for. Blessing for those who have been forgotten, and excluded by society. Those very people who have found themselves cared for by Jesus and drawn close.
But how do we hear the beatitudes and the good news of Jesus Christ, that pays special attention to those that our society still ostracizes and pushes to the fringe. How do we hear the words of Jesus’ sermon when we still grumble when some one doesn’t fit our “perfect” mold wants to hear the good news? How do we hold the gospel close to our hearts if we grumble about the homeless in our community? For we are full now, we are housed now, we are happy now.
The blessings we have heard this morning come with a warning for those who have enough. Those who are comfortable enough, those who are satisfied with the way things are. For in those places there is warning because there is still work for us to do, if we hunger and thirst for that righteousness and seek to be peacemakers in this world.