Our blessings are for us to share, not to keep. Abram’s story reminds us that we are blessed to be a blessing. “Bless”, “blessing”, “blessed” have a variety of meanings- all the meanings are related but there are distinctions we need to be mindful of anytime we encounter the idea of blessing.
One of the most famous passages in scripture concerned with blessing is the beatitudes. The beatitudes are the first part of the larger Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:1-7:27.
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.Matthew 5:3-12
There is of course, much that can be said about the beatitudes. Entire books have been written about them, innumerable sermons preached about them. Our focus is on what Jesus’ meant when he said “blessed”. Does he mean blessed now or later? Perhaps he means both. “Blessed are” suggests the blessing is now in the present time. But the second part of the sentence, “for they will…” suggests a future result or future expression of the blessing.
And what sort of blessing is he talking about? The definitions of a special benefit or gift don’t seem to apply. Happiness, thankfulness, and contentment aren’t what we see as the outcome of poverty and grief and persecution.
In the ancient world, just like today, people in the condition of poverty- physical or spiritual, grief, meekness, discontent, mercy, innocence, sincerity and peacemaking are not valued. The beatitudes are not commonly considered a list of conditions to aspire to, to hope for. Quite the opposite. The poor are blamed for their poverty. The grieved are expected to “get over” their loss promptly. Meekness and mercy are seen as weak. Those who speak out against injustice are ignored. Working for peace is dismissed as naive. And persecution is ignored or mocked, depending on who is being persecuted and who is doing the persecution.
Then and now, these people listed by Jesus are not the sort of people we expect God to bless. Popular wisdom suggests that these people are obviously not blessed. And yet, Jesus says otherwise. Jesus, and therefore God, say these people are blessed. They are holy, consecrated, sanctified. They are worthy of honor.
Often we diminish the reality this blessing. We talk of rewards in heaven. Or limit the blessing to a vague sense of God’s care. We remove the blessing from this real world.
What would it mean to believe in this time, today, that the meek and merciful and the mourning are holy? What would it mean to believe that right now, peacemaking is sanctified work as is longing for righteousness?
And if blessings are to be shared, are we willing to accept poverty? Share in mourning? Give and receive meekness, mercy, sincerity, and all the rest?
When we spiritualize the future aspect of the beatitudes, we remove ourselves from participation in them. The “for they will…” is assumed to happen in heaven not on earth. But heaven is not the future home of dead people. Heaven is where God now resides and rules. And our prayer is that God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
If we share and receive these odd blessings, would the future aspect of Jesus saying, “for they will…”, become present reality? If we participate in the beatitudes, see the poor, the grieving, the meek, the pure in heart, the peacemakers as holy, sanctified, blessed, would the world change? Would heaven and earth draw nearer to each other?