God blesses you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
God blesses you who are hungry now,
for you will be satisfied.
God blesses you who weep now,
for in due time you will laugh.
Luke 6:20-21 NLT
On Facebook we post status updates that describe how we feel. Happy, sad, anxious, bewildered, confused, excited and so on. Facebook gives us little “emoticons,” “emojis,” to give a pictorial symbol for each feeling.
“Blessed” could be seen as a feeling. It could be given an emoji to be posted on Facebook. I imagine a yellow “smiley” – giving a picture of someone who is happy, satisfied, comfortable, smiling. Readers would wonder what it was that was making the poster feel “blessed.” We would probably assume that something good had happened, that relationships were satisfying, that job, personal finances, or some aspect of their circumstances was particularly positive at present. Perhaps an unexpected bonus in some area or life.
We would not imagine any of the kind of people Jesus describes: the poor, the hungry and the sad. This seems to be a contradiction in terms. Surely such people are not blessed, they are cursed. Jesus doesn’t make sense. Is Jesus talking in riddles? How can we understand this?
I believe it is because he is not talking about feelings. Rather he is talking about status. He is not talking about something that comes from inside a person (feeling blessed) but about something that comes from outside (being blessed). Bless is a verb – a doing word. But who is doing the blessing? Because if someone is blessed, it implies that someone is blessing them. In this case, it is God who is doing the blessing.
But if God is blessing, why are the circumstances so difficult? To answer that we need to understand blessing. What does it mean to bless? There are quite a few examples in the Bible. Look, for example, at Genesis 27:28-29, when Isaac blessed (mistakenly) Jacob. It outlines Isaac’s wish for Jacob, that he would prosper. His blessing was greatly desired by Jacob, to the extent that he resorted to deceit in order to get it.
But the blessing was not a statement of the way things were so much as an expression of the way things would be. It could be said that when someone receives a blessing, when they are “blessed,” they are receiving a promise. Their present circumstances may be quite different to what is promised, but the promise brings hope that those circumstances will change. That the end will be better than the beginning.
When Jesus says “blessed are the poor, the hungry and the sad,” he is not talking about how those groups of people feel. He is talking about God’s promise to them. He is saying that God sees them, that God favors them, that they are important to him, and that he has not forgotten them.
So this is a statement about God, not about the people who are blessed. It says that God’s heart is inclined towards such individuals, because he is a compassionate and merciful God who loves them deeply. It says that God’s attitude towards the disadvantaged is quite different to the attitude of the world, which tends to have all its focus on the rich, the beautiful, the happy.
This is good news for those who are struggling, financially, physically, emotionally. It says that God has not forgotten them. It says that the way things appear is not necessarily the way things are. It says that the end will be better than the beginning, that the future is better than the present. It gives hope. And hope gives life.
Sometimes it is hard to understand why Christian believers seem to possess joy when everything around them, their circumstances, are so dark. Why even in the midst of trouble they have hope.
It is because they are blessed. They have received the blessing and they are living in the joy of what is promised, not in the misery of the present. They refuse to look at circumstances and say “God has deserted me.” Instead they look at what Jesus said, and what he did, and say, “God loves me.”
Christians are often criticized and mocked because of this stubborn hope. Christianity is discarded as unworthy of our allegiance, because it is just “pie in the sky when I die.” We want it all, and we want it now. We want good feelings now. We want riches and food and happiness now.
The rich, the healthy, the happy – they have it now. But they have already got their reward. There is nothing ahead that is better. There is nothing to look forward to. Is it any wonder that in this age, which is richer and healthier than any before it, that depression and anxiety is rampant, and that so many have lost hope. That is what happens when people lose sight of the blessing and the blesser, and live only for their own comfort, their own wealth, their own prosperity.
If you are poor or hungry, if you are weeping, take heart. God sees you, and he loves you. You are not forgotten. Your circumstances are not a reflection of your value in God’s scheme of things. There is hope. There is a future. It may not be in earthly prosperity, for that is not guaranteed. Your prosperity may have to wait till heaven. We will only ever get glimpses of heaven on earth. But heaven is coming, for those whose hope is in God.
And that is good news.