When we hear this word from Jesus this morning when he was down on the plains with a lot of other people it seems to suggest that God blesses us more when we are in bad shape! It sounds like Jesus is saying that we are truly blessed when …
- We have no money or clothes or options, (poor)
- We have no food – can’t eat properly, (unsatisfied)
- We are grieving and sad – (weeping)
- When we are derided and dismissed because of faith, (rejected)
Well who wants God’s blessing?! If that is what you have to be to be blessed by God, then who needs it? If we have to go around making sure we have got no means, no joy, no status or good reputation and relationships, in order to receive the fullest of God’s blessings, then why bother with God?
This would be a question that the people on the plains with Jesus would have been concerned about.
For them, more than for us, wealth and status were directly linked to a strong and visible system of honour associated with God’s blessing. If you had lots of cows or sheep or were rich enough to own land, a good name, children, status in the community, then you were obviously directly blessed by God.
On the other side of the coin, if you had no money, no goods and no land, couldn’t have children and etc… then you were obviously not blessed by God – you had no ‘honour’.
Well, maybe there was something wrong with you. Maybe you were doing something offensive to God. Maybe it was in your genes and family heritage. Your family has some bad secrets, and therefore you are cursed forever, no matter how hard you work or how earnestly you try to please God.
To top it all off and make it really awful, the religious leaders confirmed this. There were names for people who were obviously not blessed by God; names like “unclean” and “sinners”. These were technical names that meant legal and social consequences for everyday people every day.
So, is Jesus really saying that we have to be in the worst state to be truly blessed?
No, he isn’t. Jesus does seem to say that wealth in all its accepted forms in a culture is not a direct proof of God’s blessing. He is challenging the honour system and turning it upside down. He is challenging the common belief that if you are doing it tough it is because God has withdrawn his blessing from you, and if you’re doing well in terms of money and stuff, then God is blessing you; as if all God really cares about is how much we have or don’t have!
Rather, when Jesus says “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are the bearers of my name he is saying;
- If you are poor, then you still have the highest status is God’s eyes.
- If you have great sadness in your life it is not because God has cursed you, in fact, God knows your sadness and will bring joy again.
- If you are on the edge of the minimum wage and just barely eating and go to bed with your stomach rumbling with hunger, it does not mean that God is cursing your work or lack of work (unemployment). Satisfaction in life comes from God’s grace and love and calling as his child and his representative to others.
- If you have lost friends because you have not gone along with the stuff happening at work or in your family or down at the sports club or among your friends, your lack of good name and the shame that comes from that is not God cursing you or withdrawing his love from you. In fact, there is a delayed and great reward that is already yours and will be yours in full one day.
Jesus makes it clear that God does not view wealth, power and prestige as human beings do. God’s blessing and acceptance are not based on any human achievement for success but his own decision. God has decided his blessing. That decision has been made in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and it is all grace.
God has decided to bless people before they were worthy of it. God does not forget us when we are down in the world’s view. He has a longer term view, a higher view. It is a gracious giving of blessing and love whenever and wherever we find ourselves or have got ourselves. His blessing takes a myriad of forms:
- a new friend,
- a new church family to belong to,
- a new moment of personal discovery,
- a new moment of personal healing,
- a new job,
- the food we eat,
- the house in which we live,
- the trees around us, the beach we walk on,
- the marriage we share,
- the friendships we enjoy,
- the intelligence, physical skills, musical skills, practical skills we now possess,
- the name above all names; the name of Jesus we now bear in this culture.
God’s blessing and acceptance are not based on any human achievement for success but his own decision. God has decided his blessing.
We are blessed! We are blessed with the total commitment, acceptance and presence of God, Father, Son and Spirit who began his good work in us and will bring his work in us to its full completion the best way possible for us, even if we go to bed with hunger pains, cannot make our mortgage or rent payments or don’t have what we need.
And here is the other side of the up-side-down view of blessing from Jesus…
“Woe to you who are rich for you have already received your comfort
Woe to you who are well fed now for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now for you will mourn and weep
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you for that is exactly how previous generations treated false prophets and leaders”.
What’s he saying?
He is tackling the ever-present human problem of claiming the achievement of blessing for the self; trusting the self. We know we need some wealth, some status and affirmation from others – especially important ‘others’ in our life. We know we need satisfaction in life from our work, our relationships.
We know we need a good name among people. We know we need to laugh and have fun and experience some happiness. The problem we all have at the deepest level is that we trust ourselves and other human beings to deliver the goods now, rather than putting our trust in God for all this and more – on his terms – which are the best terms. We just struggle to believe that!
- “It’s taking too long, God. I will speed it up”
- “Your way seems weak, God. People laugh at it and therefore me. I will make life happen and laugh with them”
- “Your ways seem insignificant, Jesus. Everyone laughs at generosity, hospitality and not going for the most bucks you can in the shortest peace of time. I’m going to get the things done and go for broke”
We will get help in these things. People will urge us on and support us. They will understand why we are doing it because they are doing the same thing.
Jesus speaks sternly at this point because we are so clouded on this issue. He knows the human heart and the honour for which it longs.
In Jesus’ gracious blessing given before we earn it or achieve it, no matter our circumstance, there is no room or need for people to claim success as their own or even determine what is ‘successful’.
But surely we know that God wants this heart of ours. Even though, as Jeremiah so graphically says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9) God wants to make this heart of mine and yours straight and true.
Surely because of our Saviour Jesus, we know now that God wants to bless us everyday with what we really need. He longs for us to rest in him. Surely his cross tells us that he desires to make us “like a tree planted next to the river, with roots that send into the stream” as Jeremiah called.
“Cursed is the person who trusts in humanity, who depends on human ability for strength and so whose heart turns away from the Lord” he cried.
“That person will be like a very small tree in the wasteland, that person will not see prosperity when it comes but instead will live in the dry places in the desert on the salt flat where no one can live”, says the Lord.
But as we trust in God’s way or true prosperity – prosperity in generosity, hospitality, spiritual gifts for ministry, forgiveness and healing for conflict in relationships, hope in hopelessness, affirmation in shame, authority and status in weakness, we will indeed be…
“Like a tree planted next to the river with roots that send into the stream
it does not fear when the heat comes it’s leaves are green all year ‘round.
It has no worries even in a year of drought and never fails to bear good fruit.
We are blessed in every way. Let’s not settle for our own success or believe ourselves to be cursed if things don’t go well. Take these woes and warnings and these promised as true blessing and we will be bearers of good fruit among others.
We are blessed. Amen.