Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.Luke 6:20
“Blessed are you,” Jesus says. “Blessed are you.” But what does it mean to be blessed?
The notion of being ‘blessed’ goes back a long, long way. In ancient Greek and Roman cultures, the gods of Olympus were the ones who were considered blessed. Living on Mount Olympus, free from the cares and concerns that we mere mortals have, these gods were looked upon with envy, and considered blessed.
Eventually, even us mortals, if we were wealthy and powerful enough, were added to the list of those considered blessed. They, too, after all, were thought to be free from many of the cares and concerns of us ordinary people. Truth be told, that might be how many in our world still look at what it means to be blessed. The rich and famous, with their magnificent mansions and beautiful families, might still be thought by much of our world to be the blessed ones. I read this week that 1% of the people in our country own 70% of the wealth of this country. That is pretty startling, and perhaps they are the ones our world considers blessed.
BLESSED ARE YOU
What does Jesus think it means to be blessed? Clearly, he is redefining what it means in today’s gospel reading. In this reading, Jesus blesses the poor, and the hungry, those who are weeping, and those who are hated or excluded. In other words, Jesus blesses the very last people that the world would consider blessed.
This reading starts with Jesus looking at the disciples gathered around him. They were a rather ragtag group, if you remember. Definitely not the rich and powerful. In fact, they were – or would be soon enough – poor, hungry, and weeping. And eventually they would become hated, excluded, reviled and defamed. Following Jesus was definitely not a way to become rich and famous. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now.
But in spite of all that, Jesus looked at his disciples, and declared them blessed. Why? After all, these were not gods living on Mount Olympus. They were not the rich and powerful of their day. They really weren’t, by any known measure or standard, considered among the blessed.
So how can Jesus declare them blessed? For a very simple reason: He is the Son of God, who created heaven and earth. And if God’s Son says they are blessed, then they are. If the Creator of the universe says that you are blessed, then no matter what is happening in your life, you are most certainly blessed.
Think of it. There may be nothing else going right in your life right now, except that you know you are God’s beloved. You may have trouble at work, or trouble at home. Cares and concerns that are very real and very troubling. But you are here, holding on to your faith, trusting that God loves you and has plans for you. And so, you are blessed. No storm can shake your inmost calm, as the hymn puts it, because God is your refuge and strength. And that is enough.
WOE TO YOU?
But, wait a minute, pastor, you might be thinking. What about those woes? Jesus blesses you are poor, but also says woe to you who are rich. And woe to you who laugh? What is that all about?
As always with Jesus, it is all about priorities. Are you seeking first the kingdom of God, or wealth? Are seeking first money and pleasure, or God’s will in your life? Which comes first?
I like how one of my commentaries on this passage describes this, with these words about the woe Jesus declares to those who are laughing:
“laughing here is not a joyful response to God’s work, as it is in v. 21. It is instead the laughter of the fool who is both unaware and unconcerned about the priorities of the kingdom. That laughter will turn to the mourning of remorse.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume IX. Abingdon Press.)
Woe to those who don’t care about God’s kingdom. But to those who do, even if it hasn’t resulted in material blessings in your life, you are nonetheless blessed.
When we read these beatitudes, it is easy to focus on the fact that Jesus is blessing the poor, the hungry, and the weeping. And he is, without a doubt. Jesus cares deeply for the poor, the hungry, and the weeping, and demonstrates that throughout his ministry.
But that overlooks an important detail in this gospel reading, the very first line. When it says that “Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor.’” You see? It is not the poor that Jesus is blessing. It is the disciples, who happen to be poor. They are not blessed because they are poor. They are blessed because they are Jesus’ disciples. And all who follow Jesus, no matter our wealth or status, are equally blessed. Because we follow Jesus. All blessed. All saints. And all because of Jesus.
BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING
This is, obviously, very different from how the world – then and now – looks at being blessed. But there is another very important difference between how the world looks at being blessed, and how people of faith do. And that is that when we are blessed by God, it is always for a reason: It is always to be a blessing to others.
In the ancient Greek and Roman world, the gods were blessed without obligation or expectation. And so were the rich and the powerful. And I’m not so sure it’s all that different today. But in Scripture, we are always blessed for a purpose. We are blessed to be a blessing.
Do you remember the first blessing in Scripture? It was when God created Adam and Eve. He blessed them and then said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply … and have dominion over every living thing.” They were blessed to be a blessing.
And how about God’s blessing of Abraham and Sarah? One of the most important blessings in all of Scripture. When God said: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Again, blessed to be a blessing.
God’s people are never blessed for themselves, but always for others. And that was certainly true of Jesus’ disciples as well. When Jesus blessed them, it was for a reason. It was so that the world would be blessed through them. They – and we – are the descendents of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth are to be blessed.
HOW CAN WE BE A BLESSING?
You and I are blessed. But we are blessed for a reason. We are blessed to be a blessing to others. So, the question to ask is: How can you and I be a blessing to others?
I want to offer two ways we can do that. But, to be honest, there are as many ways to be a blessing to others as there are people. And it is the work of a lifetime to discover how to do this ourselves. But let’s look at two general ways that Jesus lifts up today, one rather obvious, and one not quite as obvious.
First, and the obvious way to bless others, is to bless the very people that Jesus blessed in this reading: the poor, the hungry, those who are weeping, those who are hated and excluded.
We can bless the very people that Jesus blessed, in real and tangible ways. By giving to the poor, and feeding the hungry, and comforting the weeping, and reaching out to those who might feel hated or excluded. When we do this, Jesus reminds us elsewhere, it is as though we are doing it for Jesus himself.
But, there is another more subtle way of being a blessing, and that is by doing what Jesus goes on to teach in this gospel reading. After Jesus blessed his disciples, he said to them:
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
This teaching comes right after those words of encouragement to the poor and words of warning to the rich. And here, Jesus is challenging us all, whether rich or poor, to love our enemy, and to do good to those who hate us. All of us. No matter our wealth or status. And I think that is key. Because it means that Jesus refuses to divide the world into two.
We seem to live nowadays in a world that constantly seeks to divide. We see that everywhere we look. We see it in our government, to be sure. But not just there. Everywhere we turn, we find ourselves living in an increasingly polarized, divided world.
What are we to do? Jesus challenges all of his followers to be agents of peace and unity – by loving our enemies; and by doing good to those who hate us.
This is not easy. It may even lead to our being hated, or excluded, as Jesus warns us. But none of that matters. What matters is that Jesus has declared us blessed. And he has challenged us to turn that blessing outward. He challenges all of his disciples to bless the world around us. We are blessed, yes. But we are blessed to be a blessing for others.
Jesus came to bless our world. And he did. But at a cost. He became poor. And hungry. He wept. He was hated, excluded, and cursed. But he held on to his Heavenly Father’s love through it all. And redefined what it means to be blessed.
Because we are here, and because we are holding onto this same love, we, too, are blessed. We can give thanks for this incredible blessing. And then we can find more and more ways to share it. To bless all whom we encounter. The poor, the hungry, the hated and excluded. To bless all, in the way that we would want to be blessed. In the way that we are blessed.
How blessed we are to follow Jesus. And how important it is to share this blessing with others. May we blessed as we do. To the glory of God. Amen