I led a new Bible study, this morning, on the Sermon on the Mount. I intended to start last week, but delayed due to the swirl of activity in the immediate aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy. Today’s class focused on the Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:1-16…
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
What does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean when we say, “God bless America?” Health? Wealth? Prosperity? Protection? Favor?
The Greek word, used in the New Testament, for “blessed” is “makarios,” which means something akin to, “being in an enviable position,” particularly in our relationship with God. Being “blessed, spiritually-speaking, is a good, desirable, godly place to be.
Jesus says we’re in an inviable position with God when we are poor in spirit, when we are mourning, when we are meek, when we are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and when we are persecuted, when we face opposition for our faith. I don’t know about you, but that sounds VERY different than the way most of us typically use the word “blessed!”
Is it possible we understand the word “blessed” correctly, but expect the wrong outcome? After all, we live in the wealthiest, most prosperous nation on earth. But, what’s all of our wealth and welfare doing for us?
Being close to God does NOT automatically lead to health, prosperity, protection and favor. Instead, being close to God may mean the opposite. Being close to God will break your heart for the sins of the world. Being close to God will reveal your insufficiencies, and need for God. Being close to God means working for justice and peace, even when it brings opposition. Being close to God requires seeing the impurities in our own lives, and our desperate need for refinement. Being close to God requires personal sacrifice. Being close to God can be difficult… and blessed.
Being close to God is undeniably an inviable position. It’s where we want to be, whether we get that or not. But, God blesses us to bless others, not to bask in the blessing ourselves. Being close to God is joining in God’s work of healing and redeeming this broken world. Being blessed is less about the temporal blessings we may or may not receive, and more about the blessing we can be for those less blessed than us.
This world needs a lot of blessing!
Though I’ve read the Beatitudes countless times, I’m hearing them differently this time. I can’t help but read them through the lens of our recent tragedy. I hear the call to mourn and show mercy – Christians are good at that. But, I’m also hearing God’s call to work for justice and peace, even if it means facing painful opposition.
In fact, just a few verses after the Beatitudes, Jesus adds, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
The “blessed” do. The “blessed” put blessing into action. Friends, there’s a lot of blessing for us to do.
Yes, God, please bless America. Bless us with the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the workers for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peace-makers, and those who are persecuted for doing what is right. Bless us with your Kingdom. Bless us, please.