The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #10: What does the word ‘blessed’ really mean?
Blessed . . . Matthew 5:3
I recently had my book, Key to Deep Change, translated into Spanish for the second time. You read that right. I had to give it to second translator because the first one did not understand what I was trying to say in a number of passages. A couple of the test readers for the first go around contacted me to let me know that the Spanish version was just a bunch of gibberish in places. For example, every time I talked about ‘the Fall’ from Genesis 3, the first translator rendered it ‘sin.’
The problem we face when reading something that was translated from another language is that the translator has tried to find just the right word to match the original. But that isn’t always possible. Take, for example, how we use ‘love’ to translate agape in the Bible. Since we love our cat and our spouse and reading Jane Austin and Pokemon Go and peanut butter, it is hard for many of us to grasp what it means for God to agape the world—to agape you and me, for that matter. Love is a good word, but by itself, it does not capture the meaning of agape.
So it is no wonder that many believers miss the good news in the first word of each of Jesus’ beatitudes. ‘Blessed.’ What a powerless sounding word. Believers often use a form of this in praying for people, as in “Bless so and so. Bless such and such.” It sounds a lot like we do not really know what God can do for those we love, but we hope that it will be good! That definition of ‘blessed’ is about getting something tangible from God, maybe undeserved. It misses the point that Jesus is making—that being blessed is about deep change in our souls.
Understand that Jesus is not just bestowing some vague lick-and-a-promise of a better future. The word he uses to launch each beatitude is a promise that his followers would live satisfied and secure lives in the midst of life’s hardships. That they would be changed in how they see God as well as life. That they would emerge as the people they were meant to be, though it would be costly spiritually and emotionally, as well as culturally, for them.
Starting with ‘Blessed’ indicates that his eight beatitudes are not a call for a great effort on the part of his hearers to attain them. Blessing is something that is imparted to those who are on this journey. The beatitudes are the signs of the journey, but they are not its benchmarks, as if each person is seeking to somehow work hard to get through his eight-step program.
So what is the good news Jesus is offering by the word ‘Blessed’? One of the people present at this sermon was Peter. Later he would write a letter to the churches located in what is modern day Turkey. Encouraging them in a time of persecution, he reminds them, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:14) Peter captures the thrust of Jesus’ intent in the beatitudes in this one sentence. Believers were being persecuted for righteousness sake, but even as life comes down hard on them, they are blessed. How? Because right now, in the present dark and difficult moment, the Spirit is resting on them, a truth which is about both the glory of God and His power at work in them.
And this is for us also. When you embrace the good news of Jesus, you are blessed by the presence of the Spirit, who comes to empower your journey. Jesus’ blessing is not for those who will work hard to be poor in spirit, mourn, exhibit meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, be merciful, become pure in heart or find out how to be peacemakers. The blessing is the power to experience all these things happening as you trust the one who is proclaiming the good news and surrender to the work of the Spirit in you.