I know it’s mostly been sermons lately. Sorry about that. But I wanted to share something that came from my preparations UBC’s for Wednesday night study. We just started looking at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, which typically starts with the Beatitudes.
They start out with the phrase, “blessed are the…”
Some translations will go so far as to say, “happy are the…”
I’ve never liked that translation. Because being blessed is so much more than just an emotional response—it is a state of being—it is something applied to you. One thing that came to mind changed the way I approach this moment.
The Jewish culture and many others in the area was a culture of hands on blessing. Whenever a father wanted to pass on blessing to his son, he brought him close, laid his hand upon his head or his shoulder and pronounced his blessing. This can be seen throughout the Old Testament. In the New Testament, there is the ceremony of laying on of hands—bestowing or passing on the Holy Spirit—sometimes literally, sometimes symbolic. Laying on of the hand continues in the ceremony of baptism. Taking hands was also a hand of fellowship. Jesus also, when His disciples tried to prevent children from approaching Him, actually drew them close to Him and “blessed them”. Jesus was and is a very Hands On type of person.
So for a culture that understood blessing passing from person to person by the physical contact and application of hands, the thought came that perhaps we should understand this type of blessing in the beatitudes as God passing on His blessing to us—thereby understanding that the Hand of God is upon those who are poor in spirit, the hand of God is upon those who are mourning in His touch of comfort, the Hand of God is upon those who are meek for they will receive an inheritance.
This Hand of God is not one which comes in times of discipline, but often of protection, reassurance, of favor, etc. Just think how much it means to you when another human being—in your moment of discouragement or need—comes and lays their hand on your shoulder, comes gets close to you, takes your hand and prays for you. That is what God is doing in these moments. God’s Hand of favor and blessing is upon you—contrary to what the world and popular opinion might be at the time, disdaining those very things Jesus commends. Their ultimate fulfillment may not come until the glorious return of Christ, but know that in the meantime, God’s hand of favor is still with you all along the way.
It’s changed the way I approach those texts—not just an experience of joy (though that is included)—but the assurance of God’s presence and love. You know someone is near when they are close enough to touch you.
What about you? What does it mean to be blessed?