Bought a new car? #blessed
Enjoying a family vacay (or quarantined stay-cay)? #blessed
Got a raise? #blessed
Finally found the "ONE"? #blessed
If social media has a greatest strength, it may be showing off the best of our 21st century #blessed life. Plenty (but maybe not enough?) has been documented on the psychologically and emotionally toxic effects of consuming hours of our social feeds that are filled with 99% highlights and 1% real life, and I don't care to harp on it except to remind us all that whatever "big picture" you see from your feeds is not real (just like if I see a package of ground beef that says 25% meat, I'm not calling it real meat and I'm also not touching it).
But what I do feel needs to be addressed beneath the surface of our 21st century mainstream western "Christianese" lingo, is another ideological toxin that I'm calling out as a LIE:
Good fortune is what makes us "blessed."
That is NOT the Gospel.
"Blessed" vs "Blessing"
You may be quick to agree with me; "Of course, what we own doesn't define our 'true' value." But if we search our feeds with #blessed, why will we be bombarded with what seems like the collective dream life?
I have no problem with calling a good fortune - a pay raise, a family getaway, a miraculous healing, a new puppy - a "blessing." The Bible is filled with those (puppies are in there somewhere because they're a gift from above). God gave the Nation of Israel the responsibility of being "a blessing" to all nations - a representative of Him that would demonstrate to neighboring nations that He is loving, protective, and desiring of community in ALL people. Therefore, to receive a blessing is to receive a sign of favor. And I am in big favor of those favors. I could bore you with an endless list of blessings I have received throughout my life (some merited, others definitely unwarranted).
But as far as I understand the Biblical nature of God, to receive a blessing and to "be blessed" are two very different things. And that's where Jesus' upside down kingdom comes in.
Here's what I know about the ancient near-east around the time of Jesus:
- Women (outside of royalty or wealth) were almost automatically a second-class citizen.
- Female widows were close to hopeless because they were already a second-class citizen and also had no "superior" man or family to be their provider (since they generally weren't allowed to work).
- Those with a visible physical disorder (like leprosy) were believed to be the product of a deserved curse and had to declare it anytime they were out in public (literally by yelling).
- People of mixed race were automatically considered "impure" by both sides of their family (or least had a cultural "asterisk" next to their name).
- Refugees who fled their homeland from war or famine and desired any kind of living above that of a servant for the rest of their lives..."may the odds be ever in your favor." (wait, was that the first century, or 21st?)
Put yourself in one of these’ unfortunate (to say the least) circumstances. If you happened to have social media back then – maybe there was a literal wall and you could add your own “updates” to it by carving them in little bricks and mortaring it to either end. Would you be compelled to carve out “#blessed”?
#blessed: More Than Fortune
But people facing and living through these exact circumstances were who Jesus was speaking to directly when He so boldly and shockingly proclaimed who HE considered to be “blessed”:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,Matthew 5:3-10 (NKJV)
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The “multitudes” of people who had been following Jesus were sick, injured, diseased, and possessed. They were certainly cast out of any rightful public “place” within society and were left to the fate of their own suffering and torment, often along with the family members who chose to care for (and suffer with) them. These were the people Jesus chose to publicly announce His ministry to.
These were the people whom Jesus declared, BLESSED. Because they were who He was – and who God still is – most concerned about in His creation. The sick. The poor. The orphan. The widow. The foreigner.
The marginalized people God repeatedly ordered His own nation to protect and look out for throughout the Old Testament are the same marginalized people Jesus started His ministry with, because those orders were continually ignored or abandoned (and still are to this day). That’s why Jesus caused such a stir; the people who had no voice suddenly had someone not only speaking out for them, but uplifting them, healing them, feeding them, and assuring them that they belonged.
Today, it is still them whom Jesus has declared BLESSED, because they find loving favor with Him.
Not good fortune.
So by all means, share your happiness and gratitude when you get that dream position you’ve worked so hard for, or make it to your 10th anniversary, or finally get that backyard with a pool. Those are surely blessings; God finds favor with you because He loves you, and His abundance is immeasurable.
But – as far as I understand the Biblical character of God – our good fortunes and blessings are not indicators of our standing.
Bought a new car?
Enjoying a family vacay (or quarantined stay-cay)?
Got a raise?
Finally found the “ONE”?
Then you are #fortunate to receive such blessings out of God’s abundance.
But those things don’t make you “blessed.” If they did, then the people living in tent cities, the hundreds of thousands of children stuck in the US foster care system, the wrongfully or unfairly incarcerated people of color, the single mother who never sees her kids because she’s always working to keep them fed…they would all certainly NOT be blessed.
But the Jesus of the Bible would angrily disagree with you (because Jesus DID get angry, right?), based solely on His first public sermon.
On the other hand…
Homeless (or one check away from it)?
Abandoned by your family?
Mourning the loss of your child?
Losing a grip on life from addiction?
Then you are #blessed, because your redemption is His purpose. He is in the business of renewing all things, and the more desperate we are in our lives, the more space He has to work in them and see you be fully redeemed.
Live TRULY #Blessed
Finally, if like me you ever feel guilty because of how (unfairly) fortunate you’ve been in your life, be reminded (once again) that your good fortune does not define you.
Do you leave your celebration to mourn with those who are mourning?
Do you use your privilege to strengthen the weak and feed the hungry?
Do you hunger and fight for justice for our own marginalized groups?
Do you leave your friends to walk alongside the one who doesn’t have any?
Then you are #blessed, because you have joined Jesus in His redemptive work (even if you didn’t know it). You have claimed His purpose.