July 15, 2019
Scripture Mark 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying,“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they
persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:1-2. 12 NRSV
We have an unfortunate expectation in our culture that we are to be happy, always. This is one way to cope with upsetting news, such as a minor spat with your parent or with a child or disappointment with a job review or exam result. But, when it comes to the larger calamities of life, especially, those that are unexpected or deeply hurtful, being happy becomes a false face: a mask for the public and a lie to your inner sense of truth. Like it or not, sadness and misfortune are part of our human existence. This is recorded for us by the faithful writers of the Psalms and Lamentations in the Hebrew scriptures.
Unfortunately, this sense of “perpetual happiness” spills over to affect our filter on scripture and our faith. Because of this, many people approach the Beatitudes in our scripture lesson by emphasizing principal words, such as meek, poor in spirit, and pure in heart. As a result, these are touted as desirable traits for all good Christians to imitate. It is fairly intuitive to make this assumption. The root of the word beatitude does mean blessed, and it was used in place of a Greek word (makarios) which meant happy, as well. But this same Greek word, makarios, was used by translators of the Hebrew scriptures, before and after Christ, to convey the deeper meaning of the ancient Hebrew word, chesed. This word conveys a sense of joy in God which comes from being in full communion with God. This produces a deep sense of blessedness that can only originate from, and exist in relationship with, God.
Since Jesus was a Jew who regularly practiced his faith, very likely this sense of chesed, or profound blessedness, was behind these opening words for each phrase in the Beatitudes.
Through God’s power, Jesus is honoring and blessing the downtrodden. They are more blessed and in greater contentment and communion with God than the rich or those strictly observing the Hebrew laws (the scribes and Pharisees). So, we need to realize that Jesus is not making a list of Christian characteristics. He is stating that, through him and God’s work and will, the outcasts and lowest of society are the first to understand and receive the spiritual benefits of God’s Kingdom. That was a revelation, indeed!
I encourage you to read through the Beatitudes, stop at each line, and consider that through God you are offering a blessing to each person described by Jesus. I believe you will come away with a deeper understanding of God’s love, God’s mercy, and the blessings of God through Jesus Christ and the abiding and ever-present Holy Spirit.