Adam said that to be blessed was to be “the recipient of divine favor” and that got me thinking. I began to restate the beatitudes in my mind this way:
- the poor (in spirit)
- the mourners
- the meek
- the persecuted
- the peacemakers
- the pure (in heart)
- the merciful
- the hungry and thirsty for righteousness
- the insulted and accused
Usually, we long-time church-goers think that the word “blessed” is just as effectively rendered “happy” because at some point we heard a preacher say as much. (Any Robert Schuler fans out there remember “The Be Happy Attitudes”?) And so we tend to hear Jesus say “Happy are the poor…” and “Happy are the mourners…” and so forth. We accept that “happy poor” and “happy mourners” are paradoxes, which is what we tend to expect in religion, then wonder what’s for lunch. But when Adam uttered the words “divine favor”, my mind went in an unusual direction.
Jesus was talking to a crowd of God’s chosen people. He was addressing the children of Abraham, the people of Moses, the descendants of David. They were the one nation of all the nations which God had taken to be his own. In other words, he was talking to people who saw themselves as favored by God.
Within their own favored community they had some clear ideas about who among them were favored by God. Wealth was considered a sign of his favor. Conversely, poverty was seen as a sign of God’s disfavor. The healthy were favored. The sick were disfavored. Those with many children were favored. Those with no children weren’t. And the list goes on. Jesus has his own list of people favored by God and it doesn’t match his audience’s list.
As I reflect on this, I feel there’s something weightier about having God’s favor as opposed to a paradoxical happiness. Maybe it’s because I once heard a preacher say that happiness is the product of our circumstances. As our circumstances change, so does our degree of happiness, which implies that bad circumstances result in unhappiness. But with this idea of “blessed” meaning “favored by God”, there is no paradox. There’s no question of happiness. The poor, who are in bad circumstances, have God’s particular attention. They, who have nothing, are receiving everything from God. The mourners, who are obviously unhappy, have God comforting them. The meek, pure and persecuted have God defending them and their cause. All of these people feel and know just how far out of sorts the world is and they all have God assuring them that He is sorting the world out.
Jesus’ listeners expected God to sort the world out one day. They expected God to send someone like Moses to tell them in no uncertain terms what God wanted from them. They expected God to send someone like David to defeat their geo-political enemies and restore their political freedom and power. They expected someone like Elijah to wield divine power on their behalf. And when that person showed up and did all of these things for God’s favored people, then the world would be sorted out. What they didn’t expect was that the favored ones were those on Jesus’ list and that Jesus himself was the one God had chosen to put the world back in order.