Formations 09.05.2021: Blessed

Matthew 5:1-16

“Blessed” is a perspective that many today seek to embrace. The word captions photos on social media of our good-looking and well-behaved children or of our wonderful beach vacations. It graces the bumper stickers of our cars. It’s written on plaques we buy at trendy arts and crafts stores to hang in comfortable middle-class homes.

These things, we say, are evidence that we are blessed.

For the most part, I can’t find fault with this attitude. If we say it out of a sense of gratefulness, acknowledging that blessings like this don’t make us better than anyone else, then it can be a genuine confession of faith. It’s definitely better than hanging a plaque in our nice, suburban house that says, “I earned this!”

Family, good health, and the comforts of life are blessings. There’s no doubt about that. But when Jesus talks about being blessed in Matthew 5, he takes the conversation in an unexpected direction.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he says (v. 3). In Robert Guelich’s excellent commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, he traces how this expression is used in other first-century literature and concludes that Jesus means something like “Blessed are the exasperated.” Blessed are the people with nowhere else to turn. Blessed are the people who’ve come to the end of their rope.

But Jesus isn’t finished. He goes on to say, “Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (vv. 4-6). In Greek, the word “righteousness” could also be translated “justice.” Who are the people who are starving for a little bit of justice today?

Exasperated, mourning, meek, deprived of justice… Would we caption photos of those kinds of people with the word “Blessed”?

Of course, we wouldn’t. But Jesus does.

Why? Because God is on the side of people like that, and someday they—and all of us—are going to see it. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven…,” Jesus says. “They will be comforted… They will inherit the earth… They will be filled.” People in the most desperate situations can take comfort: God has heard them and is on their side.

It’s said that, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln rejected the idea that God was on his side. It was far more important, he said, that he be on God’s side. The second half of the Beatitudes (vv. 7-12) describes the lifestyle of the people who are on God’s side. Once we realize the sorts of people that God intends to bless, the love of Christ compels us to take up their cause.

“Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says (v. 7). Mercy is a positive, active thing. Blind men cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy!” (Matt 9:27) not in the sense of “Don’t hurt us!” but in the sense of “Do something for us to improve our situation!” God blesses people who do things like that.

“Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers” (vv. 8-9). And then Jesus ends with, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (v. 10). Because people who live like this are bound to get in trouble with folks who like the status quo just the way it is.

Our lesson text ends with two arresting metaphors (vv. 13-16). Jesus’ disciples are salt and light in the world. And thus he concludes this overture to a powerful and challenging sermon about what it means to be Christ’s disciples in the world.

Blessed are those with ears to hear and hearts to understand.

Discussion

• What comes to your mind when you observe people using the word “blessed”?
• When have you seen this word misused?
• How do the Beatitudes challenge superficial understandings of what it means to be blessed?
• How can we rest in God’s blessing even when it remains unseen?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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