Tag Archives: Blessing

The Blessing of the Beatitudes

We call Matthew 5:3-12 “the Beatitudes” because the word beatitude, which is Latin, simply means “blessing.” The meaning of the word “blessing” comes from two sources: the Latin word benedicere, which means “to speak well of,” and the Greek word makarios, which means “blessed.” Makarios was a word used to describe the gods, and it points to a godlike joy, a kind of joy that has its secret within itselfMakarios is a self-contained kind of joy, a joy that does not depend on circumstance. It is independent of chance or change. These concepts combine to form our understanding of blessing.

Unfortunately in English the idea of joy is often understood as being the same thing as “happiness.” The word “blessing”—and consequently the Beatitudes themselves—has also come to be connected with a concept of happiness. The surprise comes because Jesus associates some strange things with happiness— meekness, persecution, mourning. Our surprise comes because we fall short in understanding.

Our English word “happiness” contains the root hap, which means “chance.” That root word points to the reality of human happiness—something that is more often than not dramatically affected by chance and the unfolding events of life, something that life may generate or extinguish at the blink of an eye. (The “Gospel of Matthew,” Vol. 1; pages 88-89) When we think of Jesus’ words in relation to happiness, we miss the depth of what he’s talking about because the blessing he promises, the joy he promises, is completely untouchable. It is totally unassailable by the world.

In giving us the Beatitudes, Jesus is telling us that blessedness looks different from God’s perspective. The world may tell us what it takes to bring happiness, but Jesus is telling us that the world’s view may not be as accurate as we think. The joy God gives isn’t tied to happenstance, chance, or change. It is deeper, more lasting, and may even have some surprising components.  

God’s joy and blessing are what God’s kingdom is all about. Christ followers are Kingdom people. Christ followers are folks who are in relationship with God through Christ, who live in hope of eternal life and live out that hope in their daily lives, thus experiencing God’s blessing and joy. The Beatitudes tell us what it means to be Kingdom people, to live in God’s kingdom. They are concrete expressions of the nature of Kingdom life.

The Surprise of the Beatitudes

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 5:3-12 (NRSV)

The Beatitudes are helpful to us because they highlight the contrast between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of our world. This contrast is crucial for our understanding because following Jesus side by side places us in sharp contrast with the world around us. As Peter was recognized to be a disciple of Jesus by the light of the fire, following in the Jesus way shines the light of blessedness on us, distinguishing us from our culture and making us recognizable as Christ followers.

The first thing to notice about the Beatitudes is that Jesus didn’t actually say them in the way we are used to hearing them. In the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, and the Greek in which Jesus’ words were written, the verb “are” is not present in the Beatitudes; that word was used to render his words into English.

Rather than statements— “Blessed are the poor in spirit”—Jesus gave us exclamations: “O the blessedness of the meek!”  

This is important, because the Beatitudes aren’t statements about what might be, or about what could be. They are exclamations about what is. Jesus is announcing the privilege that is ours, to share with God in joy, to share the very blessedness that fills God’s heart. The New Living Translation uses the action word “blesses” rather than the adjective “blessed,” which helps us understand the “is-ness”—the present tense action—of what Jesus is saying. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness!  

The blessedness that God offers is ours now, not in some future time. Jesus is announcing the present reality of God’s blessing right now, in the present tense. (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, by William Barclay; The Westminster Press, 1975; pages 88–89). These blessings, available right now, are quite a surprise when we consider what the world tells us affords blessing.

The world would have us believe that righteous, merciful ways of living are weak. The world would have us believe that mourning leads to unhappiness. In contrast, Jesus proclaims that meekness, humility, and persecution, rather than being sources of unhappiness or misery, are actually sources of spiritual giftedness. That is the surprise of the Beatitudes—what appears to be a source of unhappiness, turns out to be a source of joy and blessedness.