Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Blessed” is a pretty important word within the entire Bible. Its thread runs throughout Scripture’s fabric. The word appears more than five hundred times in the Bible, so we really need to understand what it means and what it doesn’t with precision. In Matthew’s New Testament Greek, Jesus says, “Makarioi” – “Blessed are.” This adjective makarioi captures a carefree contentment. It would be like transcending all temporal troubles with no burden of earthly concerns or work or hurt. Makarioi kind of conveys the heavenly pleasantness and serene demeanor of Almighty God.
You might say makarioi means “blissful.” “Bliss” brings us back to “blessed.” They sound similar, and in this case, their senses intersect. But “bless” comes from a different root as “bliss.” “Bless” comes from the same word as “blood.” It shares its Old English root with “blood.” “Bless,” meaning “to designate as sanctified,” originally meant “to mark with blood.” Since then, of course, “bless” has broadened to include aspects of giving thanks, speaking well of, and invoking divine favor upon. And because the language spells “bless” and says it a lot like “bliss,” some of “bliss’s” color has bled in. Now “bless” also takes on the meaning of pronouncing someone prosperous or making one happy.
The “Blessed are the…” statements of Jesus in Matthew are ones of beauty. What comfort we behold in “blessed are.” So, our lectionary schedule of weekly readings appoints this text for the Festival of All Saints. Even as we grieve their absence, we envision those who have gone before us in the serenity of the world to come. We anticipate the ecstasy of arriving beside them and wearing our own white robes right along with them. And we call these assurances “The Beatitudes.” “Beatitude,” though, takes its meaning from “beatify,” not “beautiful.” “Beatify” traces back to the Latin beatus, which itself matches makarioi.
“Beautiful” trickles down from a different Latin term, bellus, or bellum, and bellitas, suggesting something agreeable or appealing to the senses. Curiously enough, bellum also has a Latin homonym with identical spelling and pronunciation but a separate origin and definition. Bellum in Latin stands for “war.”
“Bless,” “bliss,” but then “blood.” “Beatitude,” “beautiful,” but then “war.” Are you giving us something positive or negative, Jesus? I don’t want the world to know me as poor in spirit or persecuted. I don’t like to think of myself as meek or mournful. I don’t care to see myself as starving or simple-hearted. Even “merciful” and “peacemaking” could fall apart upon closer inspection. You see, Jesus’ beatitudes accentuate essentially what one doesn’t have and what one doesn’t do.
“Poor in spirit” doesn’t provide much to boast about. “Mourn” has nothing to indulge in. “Meek” has no ambition. “Hunger and thirst” go without satisfaction and success. “Merciful” doesn’t go for the win. “Pure in heart” hasn’t got secret weapons or backup plans. “Peacemaker” compromises and capitulates. “Persecuted” lacks charisma and respect. “Blessed” appears to best accessorize faded and failure. “Blessed” seems to coordinate only with little and loser. “Blessed” puts us in the position of needy and naked and nobody. These descriptors don’t exactly suit attractive, independent figures such as us, do they? Maybe “blessed” is a brand I want to wear after all. It feels a bit revealing, and unattractive.
What makes “blessed” any better than a helpless embryo? What leaves the blessed any better off than the weakness of old age? How come Jesus never describes nobles or emperors, dignified Pharisees, or exemplary priests as “blessed”? What about the attractive ones? What about the popular and prosperous? What about those with plenty and power and pride? What
becomes of their “blessed are”? Well, if you believe this “blessed” of Jesus, those things of the world amount to flimsy costumes. Those adornments of the flesh, end up as childish disguises.
Beautiful and beatitude derive from different words. Bless and bliss reside in entirely different places. Not just in the dictionary, but in our daily lives. Poor in spirit sounds like human. Meek and mournful rhymes with mortal. Pure in heart and persecuted means creature, sinner in search of mercy and yearning for peace. Whether we feel it, know it, like it, care, or not, from dust we each emerged and to dust shall we all return. Adult or infant, fetus or teenager, elderly or embryo, active or impaired, we sit here failed, fallen, and broken. Not just a few or some or most, but all. And not only minds or ideas but hearts and bodies. Not merely the culture or the country but all of mankind, we have become little, naked, and empty.
No majority opinions will change it. No arguments about rights, no emotional objections, no celebrity endorsements, no corporate support, no professional advocacy will change it. No number of abortions can fix it. No assisted suicides, no sacrificing undesirables, no harvesting tissues can fix it. In fact, they only increase the guilt and grief, the conflict and crisis, the suffering and dying. Reality can only stretch so far before the fibers tighten, constrict, and stifle. As long as we have the DNA in our cells, beautiful is war-torn, blessed is bloodied, and poor in spirit is you and me and humanity.
Something this empty, only God can fill. This nakedness is one only grace can clothe. And He hasn’t created us for indulgence, for ambition. He hasn’t made our race for independence, for popularity, power, and pride. Almighty God gives us bodies and hearts so that we may be His own. So, He blesses us, every one, womb to tomb, by marking Himself with our blood. He has stepped Himself into our human gestating and aging, fetus, teenager, adult, and advanced. He has wrapped Himself within our failed, fallen, and broken. He took on little,
naked, and empty. He put on war-torn and weathered. He knows guilt, grief, and conflict. He owns crisis, suffering, and dying.
Our Heavenly Father calls this God in flesh and bone His son, our Savior. “Jesus.” He brings salvation and favor, forgiveness and atonement. He redeems and affirms you and me and humanity from fertilization to forever. His love has the shape of poor in spirit and mourning right alongside us. He is the epitome of meek and peacemaking in our place. He has the quality of thirsting and persecuted on our behalf. He is the only One who is pure in heart and merciful. To our benefit. His crucifixion suffers the punishment of human sin and pays the price of human death.
And He blesses us by marking us with His blood. The poor in spirit, persecuted, and peacemaking of Jesus arrays us in honor and glory. His mourning, merciful, and meek covers us in royalty and dignity. Jesus transforms our death into rest, and changes rest into resurrection.
You don’t just throw on blessed like a garment from your closet. You slip into beatitude. Jesus arrays you, and He adorns you. Poor in spirit only seems empty in the instant. Our Lord’s eternity cloaks us with a kingdom too big to behold just now. Mourning and meek only feels naked this minute. His constant presence robes us under a comfort we get to grow into and an inheritance we never grow out of. Thirsting and merciful only appears weathered for the current time. Across life’s duration, He veils us in a richer righteousness and a more real satisfaction than we can experience all at once. Pure in heart, peacemaking, and persecuted only come across as undesirable momentarily. Permanently, we adjust in gentleness to the sight of this Savior and Father, and we gradually become accustomed to the designation of His daughters and sons. Embryo only strikes us as pitiful and old age only strikes us as pathetic when we see
them through the eyes of this world. When we look to the lasting, the reward of Jesus overcomes our comparisons and shortcomings, rather than the other way around.
In our humility, we can be our most honest and our repentance can be its most absolute. Blessed are you who have nothing but faith, which means room enough to receive, for you already embrace the overflowing abundance of divine and heavenly grace. You are not only blessed by someone greater, but blessed for something greater. Blessed represents an adjective and also a verb. Jesus is beatifying you to beautify this people and this planet. In every battle see the beauty, and in every conflict find the courage. In every poverty encounter a compassion, and in every persecution perceive a proclamation. In every hurt, every work, every concern, lay eyes on a responsibility, and in every grief see a relationship. In every lack and loss, recognize an opportunity, and in every need and nakedness observe a purpose. In every mistake and failure—even abortions and other acts which oppose the sanctity of life—identify grace and forgiveness. And in every human being—even unborn or impaired ones—encounter a neighbor, and in every neighbor a gift and privilege. So shall we serve our Lord and Savior, and celebrate as blessed for life! AMEN.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.