Blessed” Matthew 5:3
Being a Christian is to be blessed and to be a blessing. The Hebrew word, barak, means “to bless” but also “to kneel” – which sounds like the opposite of blessing, but is about bringing a gift and kneeling out of respect, and so blessing the other person. So there is a sense that God blesses and is blessed.
Christians trust they are blessed by God, that, as the Gospel reading says, they enjoy his happiness, but they are also called to be a blessing. How often do Christians expect the former while neglecting the latter? How often do people expect blessing without being a blessing?
Asking for a blessing demands a conscious decision; sometimes, though, people can be a blessing without even being conscious of it. How many stories might people tell of those who have brought blessing to their lives without being aware of it?
Being a blessing is something Saint Paul expects of Christians; he is concerned that the Christians in Galatia have gone astray and he asks them in Galatians Chapter 4 Verse 15, “Where, then, is your blessing of me now?”
Within the church, Christians are to be a blessing to each other, how often do people come along on a Sunday and look around and think, “I am to be a blessing to all the people here?” Being a Christian is not something private and personal—how can one be a blessing to people Without engaging with them?
Saint Peter takes the expectation that Christians be a blessing a step further; it’s not just that they are expected to be a blessing to other Christians, Peter instructs that they should be a blessing even to those who would do them evil. “Repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing”, he writes in the First Letter of Peter Chapter 3 Verse 9.
To inherit God’s blessing, Christians are to bless those who hurt them —it’s not easy stuff, but it is in accordance with Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. In Saint Matthew Chapter 5 Verses 38-48, Jesus is saying, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”. The similar teaching in Saint Luke’s Gospel reads, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”.
Most Christians will be happy in trying to be a blessing to people who are nice, but they are not so certain about blessing those who curse them.
Saint Paul tries to appeal to the more hard-headed side of human nature in Romans Chapter 12 Verse 20, pointing out that being a blessing was a clever piece of psychology, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
But being a blessing to those who hate draws on something much deeper: it brings Christians to the difference between Law and grace.
Do you remember the story told in childhood days about the contest between the sun and the wind as to which was the strongest?
If people could have been compelled to be righteous, if they could have been changed by force, then Jesus need never have died; it is by God’s grace that they are changed. Grace is freely given, yet it is also costly; because Christians know of God’s blessing, because they know what he has done, then, out of gratitude they should be a blessing to others, even to others who treat them with contempt. In the First Letter of John Chapter 4 Verse 19, John writes, “We love because he first loved us”.
If you are like me, you probably listen to all of this stuff and nod politely and disagree; if I was listening, I would disagree.
Studying the history of the 1930s and the 1940s, I would find it very hard to believe that Jesus’ teaching would have worked if they had been applied to those violent times. But perhaps the problem lies on the fact that the situations arose in the first place; had there been more blessing and less cursing, perhaps the situations would not have developed as they did.
How do Christians respond? The idea that the word “barak” is associated with both blessing and kneeling has a lesson – it reminds Christians that blessing sometimes means that they have the upper hand and sometimes means that they are humbled. Christians are blessed by God and through a sense of what he has done They bless God. The challenge is to take the blessing we have received out to the people, even to the ones who hate.