Blessed You Are…

Luke 6:17–23 [NRSV]
17 [Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
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So friends, how ya feelin’ today? Are you feeling blessed?

Perhaps not–at least not in the way that this word usually lands.
Often, feeling or being “blessed” is associated with being happy, or prospering, or full. So when you ask someone how they are doing and they respond:
“I’m blessed.”
You know that they mean to say that the are doing okay or even that they are grateful for what they have or what they are experiencing.
Nothing wrong with that, really. But…
We don’t always feel that kind of blessed.
What happens if we don’t feel blessed at all? What if we are mired in anxiety, low feelings, a variety of stressors, and trauma?
Is there something wrong with us if we don’t feel blessed?

Quick answer–no. Absolutely not. It is human [and I would argue inevitable in this broken world] for us to not always feel blessed.

So that’s why, if you are reading this, I hope you hear this:
It’s okay if you feel the opposite of blessed today. It’s okay if you are struggling with anxiety, or depression, or if you are carrying trauma in your body, mind, and spirit. It’s okay if you are overwhelmed and not sure when an end is in sight. It’s all right if this pandemic is still taking its toll on you, and you just don’t have the spoons to be “productive” today.

In fact, dear friend….
If you don’t “feel” blessed today, know this:
Blessed are you.

See, the word “blessed” in English is a translation of a Greek word [makarioi] in the New Testament Gospels in the middle of a discourse of Jesus of Nazareth. Translations are not perfect, and this is no exception. Our Western views of the word and concept of “blessed” have little to nothing to do with what words were attributed to Jesus here.
Here’s why…

Context is everything. Jesus, in this Gospel, believed in eschatology, a world view concerned with death, judgment, and humanity’s final destiny. There’s a reason why Jesus hit the ground running and seemed to be always be urgent. Jesus saw the world as an unjust, cruel place for those who were marginalized and oppressed. Jesus even saw the religious authorities and religion itself as contributing to that. The beatitudes is an eschatological speech. Jesus isn’t saying that if you’re poor, or sad, or oppressed, or marginalized that you should be happy, or suck it up, or just be grateful.

Instead, Jesus is calling on God to flip the world upside down, to bring about justice, to topple the rich and all the oppressors to the ground.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Look at our world today and it looks the same. So are these “beatitudes” relevant at all?
Yes, because while Jesus’ teaching was eschatological, we now know in 2022 that Yahweh did not intervene in human history to flip things in the favor of those who suffer and are dealing with great trauma. The world as they knew it did not end.
So then, the teaching flowed to Jesus’ followers, and now to us.

It’s well-said by Professor Julius-Kei Kato:
In the wake of the original apocalyptic context of the Beatitudes being unrealized, they should now be theologically interpreted through the lens of a realized, collaborative, incarnational eschatology by which the promised rewards of the Beatitudes no longer depend on an apocalyptic intervention of God but on the followers of Jesus (or practically anyone else [even agnostics/atheists] who think that Jesus was a great teacher) taking on a liberative praxis to create in some way and realize a new social order where the really poor, the truly hungry, the weeping and marginalized ones really come to experience now (not later in some heaven) some measure of the blessedness that God’s reign should bring with it.

Cannot say Amen! enough.
No need to wait for God to act or for some apocalyptic ending down the road. TODAY is the day to heal, to reconcile, to flip the script, to lift up the marginalized and oppressed.
We together have this blessed work to do.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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