When things are going well in life, we often describe ourselves as “blessed.” Although the word has religious origins, “blessed” has become a catch-all word for enjoying the good life according to cultural standards. As the 71 million uses of #blessed on Instagram reveals, it seems we feel blessed when our bodies are fit, our finances are in order, our careers are successful, our homes are comfortable, and our vacations are plush.
In Matthew 5:3-10, one of the most famous passages in the Bible, Jesus flips our notion of being blessed upside down. Here, Jesus describes eight characteristic of people who are blessed according to God’s standard of the good life, and it’s far from what we might expect. In doing so, Jesus paints a portrait of the kind of person who gets to enjoy the benefits of God’s kingdom and experience true and lasting satisfaction.
In teaching about the kind of people who are truly blessed (makarios), Jesus draws on a concept that goes back to the very beginning of God’s interaction with his people. As the biblical story unfolds, a “blessed” person is someone who receives God’s favor, begins to experience the benefit of that in the present but also lives according to a promise, and relates to God and others in distinct, counter-cultural ways. In our contemporary setting, to be blessed means being strong, popular, and successful according to external measures, whereas in the biblical story and according to Jesus, to be blessed means being needy, often unpopular, and quietly yet persistently virtuous. In other words, the Beatitudes are a description of Jesus himself, and therefore a fundamental charter for all potential and current followers of Jesus. Ultimately, the definition of the good life is being and living like Christ.
Rather than trying to reclaim the word “blessed,” perhaps it’s better to recognize how that word has been twisted and tainted, using another word to describe the good life according to Jesus’ standards. In Greek, the word that begins each Beatitude is “makarios,” and since this word is new and uncluttered with connotations, we are free to build them. What if, instead of sharing about all the ways we are #blessed, we started sharing about all the ways we are #makarios? Whatever the case, we need new habits for building a new imagination of the good life, which is the kingdom life.