“New Year Same Promises,” under this title, we have been meditating on God’s unchanging promises to us in contrast to new promises we make to ourselves as we opened a new year. The first promise we reflected on was God’s promise of new life made through baptism. By the power of baptism, we all are invited to enjoy this new life in Christ. I hope we experience this new life every day as we thankfully remember the meaning of our baptism and as we practice to die to ourselves and live only with Christ. The second promise we pondered together was God’s promise of faithfulness. Yes, the Bible testifies that no matter who we are, God is faithful to us in God’s love and grace. And I hope it will be our testimony of life that through it all, God has been faithful to us, and God will be always. The third promise we contemplated was God’s promise of ministry. Jesus comes to us, saves us, and calls us always. And we know that because of him, we can keep on doing our ministry whether our circumstances are favorable or unfavorable.
Those three promises are understandable as well as inspiring. But the fourth promise that we are looking into today may sound a little bit odd. It is God’s promise of blessings, which is usually called the Beatitudes, the supreme blessings. You may ask me, what’s weird about God’s supreme blessings? But you would understand what I’m talking about as we examine them a little deeper. Let us read the list of blessings that Jesus promises us first.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3-10).
Among these eight promises of blessing, I guess we may feel comfortable with the blessings for the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. It’s simply because they deserve God’s blessings. And we may tell those people, “you are blessed for you are doing something good.” However, can anybody say “you are blessed” to the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and the persecuted? Can you do that? I don’t think I can. It is quite strange to say that because we usually see those people rather unblessed and they would think so too. So some components in this list teach us that the people whom Jesus calls the blessed are quite a different kind of people from those that we usually think are blessed.
Indeed, the audience who first heard the promises of blessing directly from Jesus was not the blessed from our point of view. Last Sunday, we followed the footsteps of Jesus who started his ministry around the Sea of Galilee in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. And we learned that in history, this territory was ruined by the powers of the world, by war, deportation, discrimination, and oppression. Also, in the days of Jesus, many people in that region were stigmatized as rebels, socially ostracized, and often persecuted by the Roman Empire. To this people, who looked far from any blessing, Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you. Blessed are especially the people like you. God calls you blessed.”
Then, why? What makes Jesus affirm them as blessed? I think it is because Jesus knows that God is especially with them, cares for them, and sends Jesus himself to them. Our God is indeed the God of Hebrew slaves in Egypt, the God of the deported, the God of the captives, and the God of homeless people in Israel, the God of the persecuted by the powers of the world. The God whom we believe is the God resides in the shadow with the people and comes to the people in the darkness… and this compassionate God even became a human like us and died on the cross for our salvation. The God who humbled and sacrificed Godself… Paul knows that this sounds foolish to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). And this God’s promise of blessing, something we cannot easily assume and fathom.
Last Friday, my meditation reached up to this point. But still, I wasn’t sure if I fully grasped God’s promise of blessing. But yesterday, I found something precious. We had a Souper Saturday yesterday. Langirene, Paula, Jackson, and I, brought some soup to a homeless shelter in East Orange. When I distributed the soup to the people at the shelter, I just habitually said to them, “God bless you!” On my way back, thinking about God’s promise of blessing again, I deeply realized that when I said, “God bless you,” I senselessly assumed as if they were not blessed. I might think that I was bringing God’s blessing to them. However, according to the Beatitudes, they are the ones who are truly blessed—not me. By serving them, I might receive a blessing through them. After Souper Saturday, I visited the Miller family. Mary, who has been a dedicated mother and a loving wife, is now under hospice care after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for a long time. I prayed for the family that God may bless the family who is mourning for her. At that moment, I also remembered the words of our Lord, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Yes, they are the ones who are truly blessed—not me. I cannot be the one who asks God’s blessing on their behalf, because Jesus already affirmed that they are blessed in their mourning. By serving them, I might humbly receive a blessing through them.
The Beatitudes, God’s precious promise of blessings, indeed turns our perspective on blessing upside down. When we have everything we want, are we blessed? When we achieve everything we desire in our lives, are we blessed? No, certainly not. Rather, we are blessed, even though we are poor, mourning, persecuted, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, even though we are in seemingly unblessed situations; we are blessed if we hold onto God promise of the blessing, and we are blessed if we believe our God who is surely with us especially in our hardships. No matter what we suffer, no matter how we struggle, God promises us blessings to emerge from seemingly unblessed situations, God brings about something good from the dust of something not good, God creates the blessing of new life even from the death, the blessing of salvation even from the cross. Can we entrust ourselves to this God who speaks special promise of blessing for the less, the weak, the sorrowful? I believe we can. Let us keep our faith in God of supreme blessings always. Amen.