Jesus' most famous collection of teachings are compiled in the middle of the Gospel of Matthew and they are known as the "Sermon on the Mount." In my opinion, these precious few chapters should be the filter through which the rest of the Bible is read.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with a large section of maxims known as "The Beatitudes." Line after line of what a "blessed life" would look like.
This word blessed gets me tripped up sometimes because I come from the South and I've heard "Bless your heart" enough to know it really means "You're an idiot" or perhaps even worse "You are to be pitied."
Some Bible translations use the word "happy" instead of "blessed," but that trips me up too. We live in a culture that puts happiness as the highest value and defines it as finding yourself or obtaining worldly success. After reading a few lines, it’s clear that’s not what Jesus is getting at here.
The word for blessed here is the Greek word makarios. It’s stronger than happiness which is tied to circumstance. It’s a deep-rooted joy. It means to experience the fullness of God. To be stretched and extended beyond your normal capacity so that you can receive more of God’s grace. And apparently, the stretching is painful.
“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 be shown 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 because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus’ use of the word makarios here goes beyond both the Greek and Jewish use of the word. For the Greek, to achieve makarios would mean to reach a status in your life where you can avoid the pains and worries of life. For the Jew, you could tell a person was blessed by the fruitfulness of their lives (healthy family, lots of children, successful yield of the harvest, wealth, etc.) Jesus challenges both ideas.
For Jesus, being blessed means experiencing the fullness of God. Wealth and comfort can be obstacles to experiencing that fullness because we won’t need it. We are ‘good’ in our own power.
As Jesus looks out in the crowd, he sees some religious leaders listening on with their arms crossed and a strong RBF game. Perhaps some of the others in the audience are a little anxious that their local rabbi is there as they listen to this new teacher. (They are cheating on their church!) Jesus would talk directly about the Pharisees soon enough, but I have to think these Beatitudes are also aimed their way too.
He essentially says, “You may think that these guys have it all together, but they are just wearing a mask too. They are fooling you and fooling themselves. They are just as desparate as you are, they just don't know it. Only the person who recognizes how much they need God will actually experience this ‘blessed life.’ Their system leaves little room for humility."
"If you want to know what a 'blessed life' looks like, it’s not the person who thinks they have it all figured out. It’s the person who recognizes the spiritual mess they are. They are hungry for righteousness because they know they don’t have it yet but still have hope that it is possible. It’s the person who is patient and gracious with others because they know how desperately they need that same mercy in return. Not the person who is completely at peace but is trying hard to make it possible in others. Only those who mourn experience the comforting hand. Only those who recognize their sickness see their need for a healer. Only those who recognize their failures also recognize their need for grace."