By Ellen Nimmo
“I’m ready,” my coworker and friend replied without question or pause after I asked “How are you doing?” in the office kitchen a couple months back. After about a half-second of confusion, I knew. And it made me chuckle in discomfort and smile in a synchronicity of heart. He meant, I’m ready for the new heavens and the new earth. I’m ready for Jesus to return my friend earnestly utters while filling up his water bottle and glancing at the vending machine. Surely this man is blessed.
Not so long ago there was a peculiarly prominent word sweeping across our social media playgrounds. Everything from curvaceous figure selfies to showcasing the latest gizmo or gadget for home or car, the cultural vernacular was applied: #blessed. Momentarily at least. Blessed for this. Blessed for that. New shoes, elegant deserts, beach vacations, pregnant bellies, sports cars, fresh-from-the-salon looks, colorful sunsets, rippling muscles in tiny tanks, overflowing tacos, handsome wristwatchs, pretty earrings, just married, got the job, nailed it (the assignment, the project, the pic), and gobs and gobs more can all be found in a similar search. Try a search yourself, if you want, but I suspect you already know. There are over 128 million #blessed posts on Instagram today. The “good life” on display.
But I wonder how significantly the numbers dropped during 2020?
Most of us would agree it’s been a tough year. We’ve all been challenged in many ways and there’s no real way of knowing when those challenges might cease. For my friend from the kitchen, 2020 seems to have made him ready. Here’s a man with a lovely family, a person with respect within his profession, a person with meaningful relationships, friendships and an income the average American household would envy. And yet, he longs for something this world cannot provide. He hungers and thirsts for something no amount of success, financial endowment, relationship fodder, or beachy vacations can quench. He is surely blessed.
If that sounds counter intuitive, you’re right. It is.
It can be educational, if not instructive, to hear how other people deal with challenges and hardship. And, thankfully, my workplace has opportunities to join small groups. This is good news for me since it is one of the ways I get to hear from others and glean from their insights and perspectives; we recently started groups back up, virtually. I’m in one such group that is taking a look at one of the most famous pieces of rhetoric in history, the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a #blessed that will make you shake your head in wonder, laugh in disbelief, or fall on your knees in gratitude. Possibly all three. Truly. Give it a read, let me know what you think.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. These are considered promises by people of the Christian faith. The Beatitudes are comprised of eight statements from Jesus. These eight phrases told the multitudes of people, which had gathered on the mountainside to hear from Jesus, the answer to one ever-persistent question: who is blessed? His answers are salient or the words of a madman, no real room for in-between.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are they who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure of heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness
See what I mean? These statements don’t make much sense from a cultural or individual perspective, but what if they’re true?
As we read through these statement in my group this week (including their promise-fulfilling counterparts) a question surfaced. Why start with who is blessed? In this most important speech of Jesus’ ministry why begin this way? The group exchanged ideas and thoughts and, in the end, we thought it might have to do with the simple reason: right or wrong, we all have an idea, an image in our minds, of what it means to be #blessed. And Jesus, a man believed by many to be the Son of God, wanted to settle it once and for all.
You can see this throughout the ages, but unquestionably in this age of hashtags. The evidence is now right in front of us, all around us even. Here’s what it looks like to be #blessed [insert picture]. But what Jesus does most pointedly through the Beatitudes, and again and again throughout his ministry, is take the cultural, national, individual, societal, and natural (that is to say human) ideas of what we think it means to be #blessed and turns them right on their heads. It was an upside-down world on the mountainside that day.
For my friend in the kitchen, he somehow has come to an earnest belief in this upturned view of blessings Jesus laid out thousands of years ago. Not perfectly, no. But he earnestly believes Jesus’ words on the mountainside those many years ago ring true, then, now, tomorrow and into eternity. And 2020 has nudged him to saying it on his way to get water in the office kitchen. He is ready.
Which is why folks like him are so strange and so #blessed.
Jesus claims that it is exactly those persons who, impoverished in their spirit, aching in their heart, long for a world that is wiped spotless from the wrongdoings, unending toil, war, injustice, pride and mourning – it is those persons who are #blessed:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
for they shall be comforted.
for they shall inherit the earth.
for they shall be satisfied.
for they shall obtain mercy.
for they shall see God.
for they shall be called children of God.
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.