“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 . . .” Matthew 5:3-12a (NRSV)
Blessed? Really, Jesus? How can you tell your disciples – and that includes those of us who follow you – that we will be blessed when all these negative things happen to us? Okay, maybe we can understand some of them, but persecution – uttering evil falsely? Really? Blessed?
In our society, we consider “blessed” as good things, good things according to our own standards, of course. Being blessed often includes material goods, promotions at work, a pay increase, having healthy children, keeping our own health, not having bad things happen to us, and the list could go on and on. But what happens when these things don’t take place or when the bottom drops out of our comfortable living.
What happens when our house burns down and we don’t have enough insurance? What happens when we are passed over for that promotion to a younger, better looking, squeaky clean “newbie” fresh out of college? What happens when our wages are frozen because the company can’t afford pay raises? What happens when our child is born with major medical and neurological problems? What happens when we have a devastating disease or illness? How do we see ourselves as blessed even in the midst of such challenges?
The Common English Bible translates the word “blessed” as “happy.” I’m not sure about that. For me, blessed and happy are related in some ways but are two different things. “Happy” indicates that life is good; we are satisfied with our circumstances and “life is good.” “Blessed” is a recognition that, in spite of everything that befalls us, we still have things/people/situations for which to be thankful. “Blessed” opens the door to see the hand of God in all things – in all places – in all situations. That often takes place through the support, encouragement and help of others who walk with us and are there for us.
My dad has remarked often following my mom’s death this past year, about the support and encouragement he has received from the people in our tiny hometown in the Midwest. It hasn’t just been the church family, but also the community who still ask him how he is doing and let him know that they care about him. My sister and brothers have been there for him too. Dad is lonely, but he sees the blessing in his journey of grief through the way God has supported him tangibly in the people who care about him and are there for him. After 67 years of marriage it has been quite an adjustment for him to live alone, but with the blessings being heaped upon him, he’s moving forward one day at a time.
May we all find the blessings in our lives. They really aren’t about the materialistic side of life or even about the hard-to-deal-with situations. They are about God at work in us and through others. Let us count our blessings every day!