The longest recorded sermon of Jesus begins with a repetitive theme word: “Blessed.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are they that mourn…Blessed are the meek…”
Historically, that word was understood to mean “happy”—or in the literal Hebrew translation, “how happy!” The Greek equivalent, used in Matthew’s record of Jesus’ sermon, is makarios, and it mirrors King David’s use of the Hebrew term in Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…” Additionally, in pagan writings, makarios indicated a heavenly “state of happiness and well-being,” and Christ seemed to communicate that meaning here as well.
Still, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ repetitive emphasis on the word “blessed” seems hard to understand. For instance, his exhortation in Matthew 5:4 could be literally interpreted, “How happy are those who are sad!” For his original hearers, and for us today, that kind of statement seems to make very little sense.
It appears that Christ intended, and therefore divinely assigned, a broader interpretation of what it truly means to be “blessed,”—that being blessed by God is not simply enjoying a circumstantial, happy feeling. As a result, today we understand makarios to communicate much more than perhaps Christ’s original hearers would have understood.
Blessed, in Jesus’ usage, carries many shades of meaning, all wrapped up like a gift for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It includes the idea of “approval”—as in both the approval of God and people. It implies that one is “lucky,” not so much in the sense of random luck, but in the sense that God orchestrates seemingly random coincidences to deliver happiness in a person’s life. And, uniquely, it is a congratulatory term, as in “Congratulations for being chosen to endure sorrow! You will one day understand with great happiness what it means to be comforted by God.”
In this sense, then, Jesus’ proclaimed that even in the worst of circumstances, we can be happy … approved … lucky … and congratulated. We are blessed, simply because God himself has determined to make it so, both here and in eternity to come.
[ID1, 201; SOM, 22]
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