Many of us are familiar with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. You know, Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the ... . There are two words that translate into "Blessed" in first century Judaism. The first, in Hebrew beraka (and the Greek eulogeo) and this word, isn't used in the Beatitudes. This word is used in prayer asking for a blessing. For example, "Father, please bless Tom and heal his body." The second word for blessed in Hebrew is asir (and in Greek makarios). It is not a wish to invoke a blessing; rather the word describes an existing condition. It affirms a spiritual quality that is already a reality. For example, Jane is blessed to be Margaret's daughter.
Understanding the correct word and its usage is important because it makes a tremendous difference on how we interpret and apply Jesus's words. It is important that we understand that the Beatitudes are not a statement of quid-pro-quo. It is not an exchange of God's favour or blessing for your correct performance - "you are blessed if you do __________ ." There is nothing scandalous in a religious system of quid-pro-quo. It was (and still is) common for us to bargain with God. "God if you get me out of this mess I will..." We will sacrifice money, worship, fasting, a person to get God's favour. Ancients would practice animal and human sacrifices for rain, a good harvest or victory in war.
It is also much more than a set of virtues to be practiced. Jesus in the Beatitudes is turning the established thinking about God on its head. Jesus is declaring that folks who were traditionally seen as excluded from the love, the people of God are WELCOMED. The Kingdom of God is not the exclusive club for the spiritually prominent, the strong, the clean, the super-hereos of the faith. Those who were often judged outside are now declared to be included in the Kingdom, by the faithful embrace of God in Christ.
This is good news for those of us who:
- are spiritually bankrupt, feel hopelessly lost
- are mourning great loss, our own failures to measure up
- are hungry for God but didn't get an invite to the banquet
Blessed are those who are inspired by an authenticity, a pure heart to embrace mercy, love, peace-making and are persecuted for it.
The Good News - You're loved, forgiven and dinner is ready! Does this change things for you?