“Fortune” is the word that originated from the name of the goddess, Fortuna.
Fortuna was the goddess of chance or luck in Roman religion. She was a very popular deity and worshipped all over the Roman Empire. She was believed to be the bearer of prosperity and increase, the giver of fertility to the soil and to women, and the oracle of fortunes in the future. As you can see in the picture, she is often depicted with some items in her hands. One of them is a wheel. And it is called the Wheel of Fortune (Rota Fortunae). In medieval philosophy, this wheel was a symbol of human fate.
All people in the world are hanging on the wheel. On top of the wheel, a fortunate person like a king is enjoying good life. Under the wheel, an unfortunate person is going through suffering. On its left and right sides, one person is going up to fortune and the other one going downhill. The position of people can change at any given moment whenever the goddess, Fortuna, randomly spins the wheel. So this wheel represents the capricious and relative nature of fortune. Fortune comes arbitrarily. And while someone enjoys fortune, others suffer misfortune. Indeed, this artistic rendering of Fortuna tells us exactly what fortune means.
Now you may be curious about the reason that I’m sharing the detailed meaning of fortune with you today, especially before we meditate on Jesus’ words on the Beatitudes—God’s supreme blessings. The reason is simple. It’s because we better examine our understanding, our pre-conceived notion of blessing before we look into the true meaning of blessing that Jesus actually talks about. Yes, in fact, our concept of blessing is sometimes mixed with the concept of fortune. And we often habitually misuse “blessing” when we have to use “fortune” instead.
“Oh, I’m feeling blessed.” “That is a blessing of God.” How many times do we say like this? We also habitually say, “Oh, God blessed me with some good things… my new job, good health, successful children, and so on.” As Christians, we naturally attribute all the good things happening in our lives to God and feel grateful. Yes, I get it. And there is nothing wrong with giving thanks to God always. However, we should be very careful when we say the word “blessing” in those cases. It’s because if we claim that God blesses us with a new job, good health, successful children, those who do not have such things become unblessed. Think about it. Can we say that God especially blesses the multi-millionaires in America and doesn’t bless, or even curses, miserable kids scavenging food on the street in some poor countries? Never. The God, who randomly grants special favor to some people and leaves others to suffer the lack of sufficient food, clean water, or medical care, cannot be the God whom Jesus calls the loving Father. Whenever we misunderstand God’s blessing in this way, we are actually degrading our God of abundant grace just to be the goddess Fortuna who spins the wheel of fortune.
Then, what does Jesus talk about God’s blessing? Who is blessed and what is the true blessing? From today’s Gospel reading, we find the most revolutionary teaching that transforms our perspective on blessing upside down, inside out. Who are blessed? Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit (or just the poor in the Gospel of Mark)… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Matthew 5:1-12).” Here, Jesus clearly tells us, all these seemingly unfortunate people in the world are actually blessed. They are the blessed regardless of their misfortune or distress. Jesus sharply separates the matter of blessing from the matter of fortune. Jesus also says, “Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers.” We don’t know whether these kinds of people are materially fortunate or not, but again, regardless of their external fortune, they are blessed as Jesus affirms.
Then, what is God’s true blessing? The blessings that Jesus list in his teaching are only about having the kingdom of heaven, having comfort of God, inheriting the new earth, having mercy in heart, seeing God, and being the children of God. All these blessings are different from a new job, good health, or successful children. And from the Beatitudes, we find that the true blessing is to know God and be in a relationship with this God… the God who releases the captives, who brings hope to the hopeless, who forgives unforgivable, who loves the unlovable, who comes to the people in the darkness. This God became a human like us, and died on the cross for our salvation. Having a personal relationship with this God, and having God’s saving grace and love, renewing care and comfort through that relationship beyond any measure… this is the true blessing that Jesus is teaching us today. This blessing is not arbitrarily given. It comes to us only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And this blessing is available to everyone.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, in our lifetime on earth, we may be relatively fortunate or unfortunate from our human point of view. But I hope you to remember today, the absolute truth we uphold is that we are blessed no matter what, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. It doesn’t matter whether we live a fortunate life or not; what matters most is that we live our life with God’s blessing and sharing the blessing with others. On this All Saints Sunday, we commemorate the saints who faithfully walked the journey of salvation before us. Saints are not the people who pursued fortunes in the world, but we know that they had blessed lives in God. Therefore, follow their example, forward through the ages, let us also walk the path of blessings in unending line, in loving communion with saints, and in sacred union with Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless us always. Amen.