Jesus said, “blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in spirit, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are the persecuted who follow Christ.”
A shocking list indeed. Very few would be tempted to include these people in their list of blessed. How exactly are they blessed? To find an answer to that question we need to get straight what Jesus means when he says blessed. In the original Greek, the word used here is makarios.
In ancient Greece, makarios was a description for the gods. The gods had happiness that was beyond all the cares of everyday life. They didn’t need to worry about the problems of mortal men. They lived in a world that was free of such inconveniences. Later, makarios was extended to the dead. By dying, a human reached the world of the gods. Subsequently, makarios was applied to the elite and wealthy members of society. Because of their wealth and power, they no longer needed to mind the normal cares of ordinary folk.
All these uses of makarios describe a blessedness that belongs to those who live in a higher plain. For the Ancient Greek, the blessed are those who live beyond the cares, problems and worries of normal people. To be blessed is to have a joy which transcends everyday circumstances.
Jesus uses the term in a very surprising way. The blessed are not the elite, rich or powerful. It is not the high and mighty, living in luxury. Rather it is the lowly: the poor, hungry, thirsty, meek and mourning who are blessed. Jesus turns it upside down. The ones who live in the higher plain, who have the joy that transcends everyday circumstances, are at the bottom of the human heap.
What is this higher plane to which the lowly belong? God’s kingdom. Jesus says, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself (Matt 6:33-34). It is through God’s kingdom that we are anchored to the true source of blessing, God Himself. Compared to the blessing that comes directly from God, all other “blessings” fade away. It is through His grace and mercy that He allows the weak and downtrodden access to a permanent joy which surpasses all understanding.
Some translate makarios as happy, coming from the old english world hap, meaning fortune or luck. Happiness often implies a fleeting feeling, dependent on favorable circumstances. But the happiness here described is the inner joy, that state of blessedness, which comes from the everlasting grace of God.
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