When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven." Matthew 5:1-12
‘Blessed’ is a word we as Christians like to throw around a lot: “God bless you!” “Aren’t we blessed to live here?” “What a beautiful house you have!” “Oh, thank you. We are very blessed.” I often hear this term, ‘blessed’, to describe upper class status, the ability to live close to family, a great job, an abundant amount of grandchildren, the ability to take exotic vacations, etc.
In the Greek language and culture, ‘blessed’ was used to describe the rich and powerful, the elite in society, the wealthy. And in the Old Testament translation, this word was used to explain what you would receive if you lived correctly: God would bestow his blessings upon you for being a good person by giving you many children, abundant crops, honor, wisdom, beauty, good health, etc. If you were successful, it was a sign that God had blessed you because you had lived rightly.
But here Jesus comes in the New Testament and flips it on us. He chooses to use the word ‘blessed’ in a totally different way, redefining the Old Testament view. It’s no longer the elite or rich who are blessed. It’s no longer those who are traditionally happy in this life. He says it’s the lowly and poor, those who show mercy, those who suffer, those who mourn who are truly blessed. Jesus doesn’t care about our success in this world. He cares about our heart. And He cares about how we treat others.
So, the only proper response is to ask: When I read through these Beatitudes, am I describing myself? What changes must I make so that I am blessed by the standards of Jesus, not of this world? I can be more merciful. I can use the items and money I need to live and give the rest way. I can strive to be a peacemaker, dialoguing with others on our differences, fighting for justice so that there can be peace. I can purify my heart, choosing to think only good of others, spending time in prayer. And yet, there are some qualities, like being in a state of mourning, which may not really be applicable or attainable at this time. In that case, who in my life is mourning and needs me to stand beside them as they mourn? Who is being persecuted and needs my voice?
Just as Jesus called the fishermen from last week to follow Him, He’s asking us to turn away from our worldly desires, the things that have traditionally caused us to think we’re ‘blessed’ and instead, cling to Him. Only then will we find our joy. And now, in the future, when you’re tempted to use the term ‘blessed’ to describe worldly success, pause, think of these Beatitudes, consider using a different word, and decide to spend a second reflecting on the Beatitudes and how we can truly live them out. Jesus never said it would be easy following Him, but He did say that our reward would be great in heaven. Not only that, but it sounds like we’ll be pretty ‘blessed’ (full of joy, peace, comfort, forgiveness) in this life as well.