God Bless You!

The fifth chapter of Matthew contains some of the most familiar passages in the New Testament, including the Beatitudes. To our 21st century ears they might sound strange:

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 those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.
Blessed are the meek for the will inherit the earth.
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. 

What do we hear? What is Jesus saying? Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. He goes on, Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Ah, there’s a pattern here. Each beatitude consists of two phrases: the condition and the result. In almost every case the condition is from familiar Old Testament context, but Jesus teaches a new interpretation.

What does beatitude mean? The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin beatitudo, meaning “blessedness.” 

I could hear these in a number of ways. One way I could hear them is, when I’m pure of heart then I’ll be blessed. Or when I am really a peacemaker, then I’ll be blessed.

Preacher David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and has a completely different take. Listen to what he says:
But let’s be clear — or at least pay attention to the fact that Matthew is quite clear — Jesus isn’t setting up conditions or terms but rather is just plain blessing people. All kinds of people. … Why? To proclaim that God regularly shows up in mercy and blessing just where you least expect God to be — with the poor rather than the rich, those who are mourning rather than celebrating, the meek and the peacemakers rather than the strong and victorious. This is not where citizens of the ancient world look for God and, quite frankly, it’s not where citizens of our own world do either. If God shows up here, Jesus is saying, blessing the weak and the vulnerable, then God will be everywhere, showering all creation and its inhabitants with blessing.

Wow. So Jesus isn’t saying, hey you over there, you meek person, I’m blessing you. Jesus is saying that if God is with these, the weak and vulnerable, then God will be everywhere, showering all creation and its inhabitants with blessing.

God is blessing us. And here’s the challenge.  Can we accept God’s blessing? And accepting that blessing, can we share it with each other?

I fall short of what I think God expects me to be. How I need help! I worry-am I “good enough?” Am I doing enough? Do I recycle enough? What about that bottle of water I bought when I was in the city the other day? I have good intentions. We all know about good intentions, right?

And then I hear the beatitudes.

And so friends know that God has blessed you, and all that you do, and all that you will continue to do, in Jesus’s name.

Connie Knapp is a Ruling Elder at First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown and a participant in the Commissioned Ruling Elders program of the Hudson River Presbytery.

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