What dos it mean to be blessed in a scriptural context? If Jesus calls a group of people blessed, as he does in our passage from Matthew today, what does it mean? What is the implication on our lives and how has the sacred concept of blessedness changed in modern times?
This week is also the anniversary of the Reformation and we share with you again an animated telling of the story of Martin Luther. You might recall that we shared this video several years ago during worship.
The word blessed is defined by the Oxford dictionary as: made holy; consecrated. Indicating a fairly religious usage. We might say “Bless you” to someone who sneezes, a holdover of a superstition that believed you could breath in evil spirits when you sneezed. You quickly blessed someone to avoid that. Now it’s more commonly seen as a polite thing to say when someone sneezes, any religious connotation is removed. Even the way we pronounce the word has changed, going from blessed to blest.
Over the past couple of years the word blessed has become popular in social media with the #blessed. You’ll find the hashtag referenced in the same sentence as buying new jeans, a new car, winning a sports game, getting married, having a child. Clearly, in popular culture, being blessed holds a wide variety of meaning. Now I don’t highlight this to detract from people’s lives, but if we are looking at the things that we are calling ourselves #blessed for and we look at what Jesus was referring to when he said blessed, well we might see a wide gap in meaning and understanding.
Considering our reading of the Beatitudes, the question I ask is what does it mean to be blessed and do we still understand that in the way that Jesus was referencing in the Beatitudes?
Let’s try to understand a little bit more of where Jesus was coming from, perhaps some context for what he was thinking when he taught what we now call the Beatitudes. Prof. Raj Nadella indicates that Jesus has just announced that the kingdom of heaven has come near and he then invites the disciples to be a part of this new movement. Nadella writes, “Within this literary context, the Beatitudes should be read as Jesus’ manifesto for transformation in the community he has just inaugurated. They reveal what the new community will look like. The Beatitudes address those who experience various kinds of oppression as well as those who have been targeted because of their pursuit of righteousness. They promise blessings to each of these oppressed groups.” (Raj Nadella)
The blessings in the Beatitudes point to a future event, however they are predicated by the work that Jesus has already done through his healing and teaching ministry. One points towards the other.
Jesus says, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). What does he mean by this? Are the poor in spirit those who have a shallow faith? Those who struggle with their faith? What does it mean to be poor in spirit and why does Jesus say they will inherit the kingdom of heaven? Digging a little deeper we look at the Greek word used for poor. According to Strong’s Concordance the definition is of one who crouches and cowers, beggarly or poor. However, the words usage provides more illumination being, poor, destitute, spiritually poor, either in a good sense (humble devout persons) or bad (https://biblehub.com/greek/4434.htm).
When we look at the word in the wider context of its sentence and the beatitudes, what Jesus is talking about here are people who are humble about their faith. These people are blessed, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. How does this understanding of being named blessed due to a humble nature interact with how society has co-opted the word #blessed?
Think about the values that are implied in the list of groups that Jesus names as blessed:
- The poor in spirit, the humble ones
- Those who grieve
- The meek
- Those who seek righteousness
- The merciful
- The pure in heart
- The peacemakers
What is the implicit value statement that Jesus is making about people who fall into these group and the concept of being blessed. Do we think of these individuals as the ones within out society who are blessed? If the answer is no, why not? Where do we have our disconnect?
Think now of the passage we have in Revelation where we find a crowd of individuals who are robed in white. We are told that these are those who have come out of the great ordeal. Note that this great multitude robed in white represent people from all tribes, all peoples, all languages. A multitude so great it could not be counted. Their robes have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. The Lamb who is upon the throne, will be their shepherd, guiding them to the springs of the water of life, whereupon God will wipe every tear from their eye.
It is a powerful image that instills upon us the deep peace that is available to all people when we open ourselves up to God’s healing love. That the blessedness we receive isn’t a happy life, a random event, a new car or some other trivial thing. Rather being blessed refers to us being part of the host which has come out of the great ordeal. The host which has witnessed the great harm that occurs in the world and seeks to be a cause for good, a cause for God in this world.
These individuals, this great multitude, are who we might refer to as saints. Rolf Jacobson refers to a saint as, “Not a super Christian. Rather, according to the New Testament, a saint is one who has been “sanctified” by baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). (Rolf Jacobson)
What is a saint? Who is a saint?
All of you are saints!
Those who profess to follow Christ, who do good work and seek to usher in the kingdom of heaven. Those whom Christ names as blessed. Indeed, we are all blessed to be a part of this work. To be called by God, to be a part of a holy family, made holy through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross to go out into the world and to be a blessing.
Raj Nadella writes, “The Beatitudes offer a promise of liberation to those at the margins of our society. They also invite and require anyone and everyone with privilege and power to participate in the process of making the promised liberation a reality.” (Nadella). Most of us enjoy a level of priviledge either through our gender, ethnicity and financial status. However, as followers of Christ, we operate from the margins. On that note we can relate to those who have been marginalized by society, work together towards liberation, which is the movement and coming of the kingdom. In doing so we will be blessed, more importantly, we will be a blessing. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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