One of my common closings for letters or emails has been, “Blessings.” To me this is a way to express my prayerful goodwill toward the recipient. When we say to someone, “May God bless you,” I think we often mean, “I pray God will care for you, protect you, or make your life easier.” But I listened to a sermon recently and realized that the blessings mentioned in scripture are far more complex than simple goodwill or favor. God’s blessing often bestows responsibility as well. I began to wonder what it means to bless and to be blessed.
Two different Greek words are often translated “blessed” in English versions of scripture. The verb eulogeo means “to ask for God’s special favor.” We use this meaning of “blessing” when we pray before a meal; and this is the meaning I intend when I sign my letters, “Blessings.” The second word for blessing, makarios, caught my attention. Makarios is the word translated as “blessed” or “happy” in Matthew 5, the passage known as the Beatitudes. Jesus says to his disciples, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . those who mourn . . . those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . .” (Matt. 5:3-4, 10, NRSV). To be makarios, “blessed,” is not something we possess or something that’s bestowed upon us; it’s something we embody, something we are.
If eulogeo asks for God’s favor, makarios tells us what our lives look like when we are favored by God. This kind of blessing is about what is important to God and how God views the world. In the New Testament, Jesus uses makarios to describe masters who wash the feet of their servants, hosts who serve guests who cannot repay them, those who do not take offense when the blind gain sight, the dead are raised to life, and good news is given to the poor.
Peter, who perceives God’s truth and names Jesus Messiah, is makarios. Mary, who believes God’s message that her son will save the world, is makarios. This kind of blessing is not superficial or fleeting happiness. It is not the absence of pain or sorrow. Instead, it is the happiness that comes from the hope of finding comfort in mourning, of receiving mercy, and of knowing God. Isn’t this the kind of blessing we all long for? To truly know God and share in what makes God happy? Makarios is surely more lasting and fulfilling than any material gift or bounty.
This lasting blessing is not just about you or me as individuals, though. Jesus uses the plural form of the word. A better translation of the Beatitudes might be: You all will have the joy of knowing God’s happiness when you are poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to all of you. You all will have the joy of knowing God’s happiness when you mourn, for all of you will be comforted. The Beatitudes remind us that no matter what trial or sorrow we experience, we are not alone. “Blessed are all of you who mourn, for you will be comforted.” Makarios brings us together in our suffering and challenges us to act for the good of others — to comfort those who mourn, to give and receive mercy, to be peacemakers. When we do, you and I and all of God’s beloved community can have the joy of knowing God more deeply. May we all be so blessed.
Several meditations in this issue deal with themes of blessing and community engagement. Consider reading the following meditations again as you reflect: January 2, 6, 7, 10, 12, 21, and February 2, 27.
Questions for Reflection:
1. When you think of being blessed by God, what comes to mind? Are blessings material or spiritual for you?
2. What would it look like for your community to be blessed in the makarios way? How would people behave differently? What can you do to help create this kind of blessed community?
“I praise God for the ministry of The Upper Room. After publishing a daily devotional, I received a message from a 16-year old in South Africa thanking me for lifting her out of depression.” Read Tony’s devotional here.