“I’m so blessed.” “Have a blessed day.” “Ooh, God has blessed us.”
We say that all the time. Often we don’t even think about it. There are even songs that dwell on how very blessed we are. “With showers of His goodness, I’m blessed.” Is it possible that when we say, “I’m blessed,” we mean something very different from when Jesus tells us that certain groups of people are blessed? Is it possible that we say, “I’m blessed” when we mean that we have material possessions.
Simcha Fisher, writing on the Patheos faith website, writes of a woman who commented angrily after Fisher wrote about the blessing of the birth of her child. “You Catholic moms think you’re so great! You think I’m bitter, but I’m not! You think that just because I don’t have any kids, God doesn’t love me!”
Oh. There’s a very real danger of a cultural shift in using “blessed” as a shorthand for, “Things are good in my life right now.” And this commenter who is angry at Fischer has nailed it. If you tell me that you just bought a new house and you’re so blessed, does that mean that God likes you best? Or at least better than your friend who’s living in the back half of a duplex?
“Yes, everything that is good comes from God,” Fisher writes, “and He deserves our thanks and praise for the things He gives us. But the problem comes when we look at His gifts and draw conclusions about ourselves. The good things that come to us are only the hem of the mystery of God’s goodness. They are only a rumbling in the outskirts of the very real workings of the economy of grace. It is a very good thing to be grateful and to praise God for the things we receive. It is dangerous to conclude that we got them as a reward for good behavior.”
I don’t think we mean to do this. I think that when you and I say we are blessed, we mean, “I am giving thanks to God for all that I have.” But often what comes across is that being blessed equates to God making sure my life is smooth and happy. Or even that “blessed” means “rich.” Joel Osteen tells us exactly that. He says, “To experience God’s immeasurable favor, you must rid yourself of small-minded thinking and start expecting promotion and increase. You must conceive it in your own heart, then God will bring those things to pass.”
And if being happy is a sign that God has blessed me, what does that say to people who are not experiencing promotion and increase? If your house is washed away, your husband involuntarily retired, your womb barren? It says: “God does not love me.”
So we want to be very careful to reflect on what we mean when we say, “I’m blessed.” What do we mean? What, for that matter, does Jesus mean? Today, he gives us a long list of those who are blessed. “Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the meek. Blessed are you who are hated.”
What does Jesus mean, “blessed”? I don’t think it means, “I just bought a new car.” If we look at God’s relationship with us throughout the Scriptures, to be blessed by God might not look like a good thing at all. Consider who gets blessed by God:
- Noah, who got everyone laughing at him and doubting him, who had to survive the flood, who saw his family fall apart;
- Abraham, who lived with barrenness for most of his life, whose wife had to tell him to have relations with the maid and then rejected the resulting child, and who was told to sacrifice his own son;
- Joseph, who got thrown into a pit by his brothers and then thrown into jail by the pharaoh;
- Moses, who was given the thankless task of leading the Israelites out of slavery and into the desert, where they spent 40 years complaining about the food and asking, “Are we there yet?”
- Elijah, whose loyalty to God gets him run out of town and almost killed;
- Job, who was so faithful to God that God agreed to test him to the utmost and left him alone on a heap of ashes;
- Jonah, who tried to run from God’s directives and nearly crumbled under the weight of the task that God set for him to do;
- Nicodemus, who is so confused and fearful that he has to seek Jesus in the dark of night;
- Peter, who can’t open his mouth without putting his foot in it;
- Judas, chosen by God to play a pivotal role in the salvation of us all, who ends up the most reviled man in history;
- And Jesus, who gives up his very life to save us.
If we look at the record, God’s idea of what it means to be blessed seems to be very different from what we typically mean when we say we are blessed.
With that in mind, let’s look at this again. “Blessed are you who are poor. Who are hungry. Who weep. Who are reviled.” Blessed are you, who are depressed and struggling financially and see no end in sight. You are blessed because the struggle to survive puts down sturdy, stubborn roots that allow you to prevail in harsh conditions.
Blessed are you, whose child was shot by the police, or whose child is lost in the grip of drugs, or whose child has wandered off and lost her way. Blessed are you, because in the darkness of grief and the depth of pain, there I am also, and you will feel my loving arms around you.
Blessed are you, who bite your tongue when people say unspeakable things to you, because in choosing not to fuel the flames of hatred and division, you are healing yourself and others.
Blessed are you, who march and picket and petition. Blessed are you, who remember when you suited up and marched for the right to vote or to integrate the Woolworth’s lunch counter downtown, and can’t believe you’re still protesting this stuff – but you lace up your shoes and pick up your sign and carry on, because when you speak for the marginalized, you speak with the voice of the Christ, and you are doing His work to bring about the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you, who have a heart for the dispossessed and weak, because you get a foretaste of God’s love for us. Blessed are you, the pure in heart, because you see that of God in every one of us, and that is so much more than most of us can do.
Blessed are you who make peace and face persecution because you know that the arc of history is long, so long, but that it bends, ultimately, toward justice. So when God blesses you, watch out, because to be blessed – which means to be set aside as holy and for sacred us – when God blesses you, watch out. Chances are, what lies ahead could be painful and maybe almost unbearable. But that pain will push down roots so strong that that they can survive unspeakable storms, and the plant that will grow will be greater than all the other plants, and it will spring forth from the earth, bearing fruit, and it will reach up toward the heavens, and toward the light.