So many ways to consider what we mean by being “blessed.” Some of us have been blessed out before. Or tried to receive a father’s blessing to propose to our future bride. We bless sneezes. We have more substantial blessing, with prayer and anointing, crossing ourselves or having hands laid on us.
In the south we’ve been blessed every kind of insincere way. You might here somebody say, “She’s dumber than a bag of hammers, bless her heart.” Or, “Bless his heart, he can’t help being ugly, but he could’ve stayed home.” So what’s it worth?
A good place to start wondering about blessing is to ask yourself if you feel blessed, truly? When we try to answer that most of us by habit jump into listing the stuff we’re thankful for, we “count our blessings.” But, really, take a minute and think about what makes you consider yourself blessed or not.
Our blessings are all different, some will list things: water, food, clothing, a home, a car, an income. Others will list relationships: family, friends, God. Or maybe experiences/ideas: love, forgiveness, general safety, a “free country”, life in general.
I ask because we’ll all answer so differently, we reckon blessings so differently. I mean, take two people whose lists above are identical, with virtually the same life situation, and they’re probably going to feel differently about how blessed they are (or even if they think they’re blessed). So it’s hard to wonder what blessing means.
This isn’t something new. People in Jesus’ day probably wondered the same. And the word they used for being blessed, makarios in the Greek, has a range of meaning that proves the point. It can teach us something, I bet.
For one thing, makarios, blessed, was originally a word used to describe only the gods. The Greek gods were the blessed ones, and that makes sense, according to their beliefs these gods were in a state of happiness and contentment that was beyond all cares, labors, and even death. They were beings who lived in some other world far away from the problems of ordinary people. The blessed ones.
So it makes more sense that in day to day life, there was another group that was also eventually known as “blessed”. The elite, the upper crust of society, the wealthiest and most powerful. Because, like the gods, their riches and power put them above the normal issues and worries of ordinary people.
Even sometimes among those who believed in God, the One true God, this same idea of being blessed was reserved for those who were rewarded for their right living. Remember, some felt like if you lived righteously then even earthly success would come your way — a good husband/wife, many children, abundant crops, etc.
I bring that up because I bet it sheds light on why an idea of blessing is hard to nail down even today. Because our culture, just like back then, throws around the language of blessing in an assortment of circumstances.
So, like, I couldn’t help but notice a Tweet from CJ Spiller recently that mentioned something about his “feeling so blessed.” I’ve heard him talk that way before and most of us wouldn’t disagree. I mean, quite right, this outstanding high school athlete who came from humble beginnings and made it on to an awesome college football career, and now further to the big time in the NFL. And not just in the events of his life’s story, but in his natural talent – insane speed and agility on the field – it’s easy to grant him that title, “blessed.”
Or for our Oprah fans, she’ll often use this language of being blessed – this woman who is literally one of the most wealthy and influential in the world, again having come from humble beginnings and through life’s traumas to the top. Blessed? It’s easy to say so. And I’m not knocking their use of that language, they’re also both faithful people and they certainly do good things with what they’ve been given, and we can give God glory for that.
But I think it’s too easy for some of us, and even probably them and other folks in positions like them, to think certainly these folks are blessed. Why should any of us be quicker to use blessing language with CJ or Oprah, than with ourselves or others we know?
I think it’s no wonder this same word is sometimes translated as “happy.” Happy. Which, in English, is connected to “luck.” As in, when you leave things to “happenstance”, you treat life like a shot in the dark. Whatever happens, happens. A “hapless” person is somebody who’s just unlucky. But the lucky person, who has things going his/her way, we can call “happy.” Somebody with good fortune.
As in, being blessed is for those who are above the ordinary things, safe and secure and successful, like the gods, the “happy” ones who just seemed to have been born under a lucky star. Maybe that sounds silly to you, but lots of these feelings mess with our understanding of blessing. Let that sink in.
And now we’ll hear from Jesus’ words to a crowd that certainly wrestled with the same feelings. Famous words. Here at the beginning of his preaching and ministry, with the first crowds gathering together, made up of every kind of person, Jesus went up and sat on a mountainside to speak to them (hence, “the sermon on the mount”). And he started with words about blessing. It’s in Matthew 5:1-12 if you’ll read it
How does Jesus speak to being blessed? Up and against most of what culture told the people back then, and what it tells us, Jesus offered up another option, and he spoke matter-of-factly of what is and what will be. In the face of everything that makes sense in what we think of as the real world, Jesus offers a different reality. Where blessing might mean something very different.
If the world defines blessing in terms of being “god-like”, above the ordinary, luckily “happy”, then I think Jesus paints a picture that is, overall, Christ-like…blessedness that he describes as in touch with his way and his kingdom.
So taking the cue from Jesus, we can answer some basic questions about life from both perspectives: the cultural/wordly “god-like” mentality and the “Christ-like” view. Then we can see which reality rings truer to our hearts.
1. Who are those that will find true comfort?
god-like: Those who do so much good God essentially owes it to them. The best-behaved, most holy and devoted among us.
Christ-like: The poor in spirit. Like some say, maybe particularly those who see their own brokenness and their need for being saved.
2. Who are those that will find true comfort?
god-like: They who take comfort in their material wealth/security and possessions. The ones who fill the void themselves with something else, who comfort themselves.
Christ-like: Those who grieve and will be comforted in a deep way, by the presence of the One who swallows up death for us. And by the Spirit of God, the comforter who lives in us.
3. Who are those who will take possession of the earth?
god-like: The ones with the biggest weapons, who are most aggressive, conniving and cut-throat. The wealthiest who can buy it all. The most cunning who can acquire it from the unwary.
Christ-like: Those humble to the God to whom it truly belongs. Those who receive an inheritance from the God who created it.
And you can go on down the list from Matthew 5 and consider the depth of how Jesus’ answers here to some of life’s basic questions can drastically redefine “blessing.” Having considered it, which reality do you feel more kinship to? Which one do we each try to live into and propagate on the face of the earth, consciously and unconsciously? What kind of blessedness do we want to be connected to?
Because to me Jesus’ tone on that mountainside wasn’t one of persuasion. It wasn’t one of being talked blindly into something new. It was and is a challenge to the status quo of our life’s reality. And where we go from there is in our hands.