Language can be tricky. Words can have multiple meanings depending on the context, depending on the speaker and listener. This is certainly true with the beatitudes. Every one of the beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-12 begins with the same Greek word, makarios. It’s a word that is most often translated either “happy” or “blessed.” While I prefer blessed, both are suitable. Still, both present problems, not so much from their translation, but their modern application.
The ways we talk about happiness are not at the heart of what Jesus is after. Happiness, the way it’s often thought of, is shallow and simplistic and superficial. Too often, happiness is haphazard. It’s fickle, fleeting. Happiness is treated as conditional on everything being just right.
Popular use of blessed can often take us deeper than happiness. It’s got more of a sense of something coming from outside ourselves, something from God. That gets us further down the road. But still, a lot of the ways we use this word today cheapens it or at the very least, limits it. We still most often associate blessing when something goes well, when health is good or we have a job that pays the bills or we have a family that loves us. Without question, those are definitely found on the blessing spectrum.
But the power of the beatitudes is that Jesus proclaims happiness and declares blessings to the most unexpected people in far from ideal situations. Happiness if found in hard places, sometimes unpopular places-when working for peace, offering mercy, experiencing persecution, or seeking purity of heart. Blessings are given and received among the poor (in spirit), with those who hunger and thirst (for righteousness), with those who mourn.
Rejoice! Happiness is offered and blessings are given by God, not just in life’s highs, but also in life’s lows. God’s grace grabs not just the expected, but especially the overlooked.