I am a follower of the dusty-footed one. I find his words inspiring and confusing. I want to place him in a particular context: love, joy, peace – all the ‘good’ things, but he refuses to remain in the construct of my choosing – the construct of a progressive perspective, if you will. He certainly doesn’t fit in the box created by fundamentalists. Who, then, is this one to whom I have pledged my devotion and my life? The cognitive dissonance is mounting. Have I chosen the wrong divine?
For Lent, I have decided to study the Sermon on the Mount in order to ponder the question, “Who is this Jesus that I follow, and to where am I being led?” The SOTM is the largest collection of words attributed to him, and I hope that an in-depth study will provide me better understanding, as well as guidance. I begin by opening to the fifth chapter of Matthew, where the sermon commences.
Jesus starts with the Beatitudes, the ‘blessed are’ verses. My first thought: What is the greek word that is translated as ‘blessed’? Does ‘blessed’ convey the full meaning of the word? Why does the CEB translate it as ‘happy’?
And I’m off, digging into the Greek New Testament, third edition, published by United Bible Studies, (c) 1975. My primary Bible translations are the Common English Bible, (c) 2011 and the King James Version, because the former is one of the latest translations, and KJV, because it’s the best known. I also consult Strong’s concordance, and the internet (because of course I do.)
The word ‘blessed’ in the Greek New Testament is ‘makarioi’, from ‘makarios’. Makarios is an expanded form of the poetic word ‘makar’, which means divinely blessed, and therefore fortunate, affluent, and happy. The root of the word, ‘mak’, means to become large or long.
So, when Jesus tells the masses they are blessed, he means that divine favor rests upon them, that they are large with divine blessing. He specifically states that those who feel hopeless, those who grieve, those who are humiliated – all these are recipients of divine favor. So, too, are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness and fairness; those who show mercy; those who are authentic; those who make peace; and all those who are harassed for being merciful, authentic and peacemakers – all these also have divine favor.
The suffix ‘oi’ makes the word plural. It occurs to me that perhaps he isn’t necessarily speaking to the audience primarily as individuals, but as a group. As a group, he says that when they do these things and are these things, they are divinely blessed. In America, we’re very focused on the individual. But what if Jesus is calling us, as a people, to stand for mercy, authenticity, and peace? What if he means that as a group, we are divinely touched when we acknowledge that we cannot fix our broken world; when we are heartbroken about the many injustices that we are powerless to prevent or fix; and when we choose peaceful action over personal gain and/or retribution?
Perhaps it’s not about me as an individual, but me as part of a group. Perhaps its saying that the groups of which I am part MATTER. The group of the church to which I belong, of the community in which I live, of the state of my residence, of the country of my citizenship. The actions of the group MATTER. Furthermore, my happiness depends upon each group choosing fairness, mercy, authenticity, and peace for all, not just for ourselves.
It occurs to me that I need to look at all groups that I am a part of – even Facebook groups. Do they reflect the qualities to which I am called by the Beatitudes? If not, am I called to speak out? Am I called to withdraw? What should I do?
Sigh. I have more questions, rather than any answers. Not the start I was hoping for…
So tomorrow, I’ll keep reading. Keep pondering. Keep learning.