The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 5:1-12....
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:As most everyone knows, this passage is called "The Beatitudes" and it forms the beginning of what is known as Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. I must be honest and tell you that though I have been a practicing Christian for forty years, I find this one of the most difficult passages of Scripture to relate to. Perhaps that is because Jesus' thinking here is so upside down of the way the world thinks. And the upside down nature of this passage begins with the first word.
“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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
What does it mean to be blessed? The Greek word that is used here for "blessed" is sometimes translated "happy", but that is not really a good translation. Here's why: happiness is dependent upon happenings; happiness is dependent upon circumstances. But the blessedness that Jesus talks about here is not dependent upon the kind of circumstances that normally make a person happy. In fact, the blessedness Jesus talks about runs counter to the sort of situations that normally make us happy. And herein lies the shock of what Jesus is saying. Jesus is completely reversing the world's standards for happiness. This kind of blessedness is found in a relationship with God through his son Jesus Christ, and is therefore not dependent upon circumstances at all. In fact, this kind of blessedness or "happiness" shows up in places you would never expect to see it at all because this blessedness is the free gift of God.
Allow me to offer a small example. Author Gary Thomas, founder of the Center for Evangelical Spirituality, once wrote in Discipleship Journal about a time when he and his wife prayed extensively about buying a particular house. They gave God many opportunities to close the door on the sale, but the door remained open and so they walked through it. Five years later the Thomas' house was worth considerably less than what they paid for it.
Gary and his wife kept wondering, "Why didn't God stop us?" After all, they had given God many opportunities to stop them from purchasing the house. Then one day as Gary's wife was praying she sensed God asking her, "Have you ever considered the possibility that I wanted you in that neighborhood to minister there rather than to bolster your financial equity?"
Gary and his wife began to think of the people they had been able to reach for Christ in their neighborhood. Then they asked themselves, "Are we willing to surrender to a God who would lead us to make a decision that turned out to be undesirable financially but profitable spiritually?" The Thomas's discovered that being blessed by God often doesn't look the way we expect it to look.
Maybe we need to re-think our concept of God's blessing too.