The readings for this Sunday give us the basic religious attitude. Prophet Zephaniah encourages us to seek the Lord, seek justice, and seek humility. St. Paul reminds us that not many of us are wise by human standards, not many are powerful, and not many are of noble birth. Therefore we should neither boast in our human knowledge nor in our social status nor in our own power. No one might boast before God. Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord. And Jesus gives us the Beatitudes in the Gospel's reading. It is the guideline for our Christian living. It is the path to eternal happiness. It is a blessed way of life. What Does It Mean to Be Blessed?
A Chinese peasant lived in a small village with his wife and teenage son. Through much hard work, he was able to buy a mare. "You are so fortunate to have such a fine mare," said the villagers.
"I am only a human, and only the gods know of good fortune," replied the old man.
One day the mare ran away. "How unfortunate," said the villagers.
"I accept the judgment of the gods," said the man.
Some days later, the mare returned followed by a fine stallion. "Now you have two fine horses. You are indeed a lucky man!" cried the townspeople.
"I know that only the gods know," said the old man.
The old man's son decided that he would break the stallion so that it would be able to help with the work on the farm; he was thrown off and broke his leg in six places, making him limp very badly.
"Alas, now your beloved son is lame for life," said the villagers.
"Only the gods know why," said the old man.
Weeks passed, and a company of soldiers came to the village and took away all the young men to fight in the army – all but the lame young man. The villagers gathered at the old man's house to congratulate him on his good fortune at being able to keep his son. "You were right," they said, "only the gods do know," (Paul J. Wharton. Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers, 59).
There are secular understanding and religious understanding of being blessed. Blessed means bringing happiness and good luck. Something that is extremely lucky is sometimes described as a blessing. The secular understanding of blessed is to have happiness in this life. Many of us go to great extreme to find the ways to achieve our dream of happiness. Having a lot of material goods can be a blessing. When we see others living in big and nice houses and driving expensive cars, we think that they are blessed. When someone has a secure job and a good steady income, we think that they are blessed. Being popular and well-liked can be a blessing. Having power to influence others can be a blessing. Winning a lottery can be a blessing. But the way the world and we understand blessed and defines blessing is confusing, limited, and unsatisfied. Up to last year, for example, many people would think that working for Enron was a blessing. Seeing the price of their stock raised to 80 and 90 dollars a share, many of the Enron's employees were happy and thought that they were blessed. But all these blessings have turned out to be a loss. They are all gone. Linda Lay, the wife of Mr. Ken Lay, appeared on T.V. interview, expressing her sadness that she and her husband are broke just like many other Enron's ex-employees. But for many people, Mr. Ken Lay and his wife, Linda Lay, are still blessed with millions of dollars in stocks and real estates. Robin Lewis, in Spring said, "Linda Lay has a right to her opinion, but she is looking in the wrong place if she expects sympathy from Houstonians. I am sure most laid-off former Enron employees wish they had $30 million in assets to put up for sale while crying about "everything being gone."
There is another meaning of being blessed. The way the world and we understand blessed is different from the way Jesus understands it. We measure blessings and being blessed based on the things we have or can obtain in this life. Jesus gives us a different way to understand the meaning of being blessed. For Jesus, being blessed means being holy. A blessed person is a holy person who is in favor with both God and others. We are blessed when we are in the right relationship with God and with others. The Beatitudes are God-oriented. The promises of the Beatitudes are not to be fulfilled in this world but in the world to come. We look forward to the Kingdom of Heaven. We anticipate the vision of God; and we are willing to make sacrifice on God's account. We will be comforted; we will inherit the land; we will be satisfied; we will be shown mercy; we will be called children of God; the Kingdom of God will be ours. And Jesus sets an example for us how to get this true blessing and happiness.
- Blessed are the Poor in spirit. Being poor means having very little money or possession. The poor in spirit are people who believe that they cannot depend on what they have. They do not seeks security in the material world but in God and in the Kingdom of God. Right from the first day when Jesus comes into the world, He wants to set an example for us. The sign to recognize him is "A baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12). And Jesus affirms, "The foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest" (Mt 8:19). He spends all his life, not to accumulate things for himself, not to draw attention to himself, not to build his political empire, but to do goods for others. "The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people" (Mk 10:45).
- Blessed are they who mourn. To mourn is to feel sad because someone we love has died, or because we have to let go of something we love dearly. As Christian, sometimes we mourn because we have to let go of something un-Christians, something contrary to our Christian living. When we do that we are blessed. When facing his death, Jesus admitted to his disciples, "The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me" (Mt 26:38). On the Cross, He had to cry out, "My God, my God, why did you abandon me?" (Mt 27:46). Sorrow and suffer in the name of God and for the sake of our faith in Christ is a blessing.
- Blessed are the meek. Being meek does not mean being weak and submissive in a negative sense. Rather, being meek means we have the power but we choose not to act violently. When Jesus replied to the Roman soldiers who came to arrest him, "I am He," they stepped back and fell to the ground. And when Peter drew out the sword and struck the High priest's slave, cutting off his right ear, Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back in its place! Do you think that I will not drink the cup of suffering which my Father has given me?" (Jn 18: 10-11). Jesus had the power to fight back, to overcome his aggressors but he chose not to.
- Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Righteousness means morally correct behavior. Righteous people are those who behave in a way that is morally correct. Hunger and thirst are the two common human experiences. But hunger and thirst for righteousness are not always significant in our human hearts. President George W. Bush encourages the American people to join him in the USA Freedom Corps is one example of hunger and thirst for righteousness. He says, "You overcome evil in society by doing something to help somebody. If people want to fight terror, do something kind for a neighbor. Love somebody. Mentor a child. Stand up to evil with acts of goodness and kindness." This is the meaning of hunger and thirst for righteousness. Because of this hunger and thirst for righteousness that Jesus came into the world to make right our relationship with God and with one another. His mission is clearly defined, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor... Proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce a year of favor from the Lord" (Lk 4:18-19).
- Blessed are the merciful. Mercy means kindness and forgiveness shown towards someone whom we have the right and power to treat severely or punish. Acting out of mercy, many wealthy nations have written off the debts for the other poor nations so that they could stabilize their economies. Merciful means we are always ready to treat others with kindness and forgiveness. Jesus is the merciful One. "It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice. I have come to call, not the self-righteous, but sinners" (Mt 9:13). He said to the woman caught in adultery, "I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again" (Jn 8:11).
- Blessed are the clean of heart. Clean of heart means spotless, blameless, pure, honest, just and fair. The people who are clean of heart are those who set their hearts on God and on doing what God wants. Jesus prays, "My Father, if this cup of suffering cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done"(Mt 26:42).
- Blessed are the peacemakers. Peacemakers are people who try to establish peace between people. For example, our Secretary of States is trying to be the peacemaker between Israel and the Palestine, between India and Pakistan. In our daily life, we should also be peacemakers rather than troublemakers. Jesus is the peacemaker. He said to his disciples and to us today, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me... This cup is God's new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you" (Lk 22:19-20). He also assured his followers, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me" (Jn 12:32).
- Blessed are they who are persecuted. Jesus was arrested, slapped and crucified. "Crucify him! Crucify him!... We have a law that says he ought to die, because he claimed to be the Son of God" (Jn 19:6-7). Sometimes we are being crucified by the people we love and the people we are working with. It is the opportunity for us to be blessed.
The Beatitudes in today's gospel is the core of Christ's teaching for Christians. Avoiding evil is only the first step to be Christian. The crucial step is to practice the spirituality of the Beatitudes. How Christians we are depends on how much we actualize the teaching of the Beatitudes in our lives. The people who practice the teaching of Jesus in the Beatitudes are the blessed ones and will inherit the Kingdom of God.