My church has launched into a study on the beginning of the ministry of Jesus through the lens of the gospel of Luke; it is the third of the synoptic gospels, which basically give the best means to trace the story of Jesus’ ministry – John, of course, being written much later with an emphasis on instruction rather than story. The study on Sunday morning worked into Luke 5 when Jesus asks Peter to cast his net out once more after an uneventful night of fishing and the result becomes a catch that almost sinks two boats. The statement was made: “Obedience to His authority equals blessing”. Which sorta brought me back to ask what is blessing?
It’s common to hear people say ‘I am blessed’ when the discussion falls back to family, or success in some venture. It’s almost like falling into bed to rest after a hard day of work. If ends are met, the bills are paid, balance is restored, we feel that we are blessed and everything is right in the world. This makes many declarations of blessing emotional rather than empirical; that it is something we are able to enter into through feeling, which may be a good staple, but not the entire story. Modern theology underwent several shocks in the early 2000s when The Prayer of Jabez hit the shelves of bookstores in almost every way imaginable.
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. – 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
When Jesus stood on the mount to speak the beatitudes He repeated “blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (Matt 5) and these are all hallmarks of people who are searching for more than this world. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness it means we have found the goodness of this world, with all its piety, to be insufficient.
It can be quickly pointed out that Matthew 5 seems to refer to people who are already mourning, or already pure, but to ease the conversation verse 11 speaks in the present “blessed are you when people insult you… because of Me”, which is repeated in Luke 6:20: “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” Not to mistaken that Jesus is speaking in a metaphor of spiritual blessing and humility, He restates His intent from the opposite side: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your reward in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now… Woe to you who laugh now… Woe to you when men speak well of you…” (Luke 6:24-26).
The values of the Kingdom of God are inverted to those of this world – which focus on gaining wealth, power, and resources – instead to explain that the Jesus did not come to gain power, but to lose it… and so must we. I think we miss a blessing when we fail to catch His meaning. Jesus comes down on the happy, but favors the poor, but never seems to transition between the two: the focus is not on material things. The Old Testament speaks of the tithe: the first 10% of everything given to the Lord, but this is not repeated in the New Testament principle; perhaps because we are so drawn to judge our performance on how we feel about ourselves. The answer is not what we give or how we give it, but the reason the blessing is distinguished in the first place.
“What we do now echoes in eternity” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The poor are not simply those who have no money; Jesus is speaking to His disciples who left everything to follow Him, even to be shunned by the religious authority in Judea. When He contrasts this with “but woe to you…” He is still speaking to His disciples, not the Pharisees. The danger is to see happiness, wealth, and reputation as blessing because these are all trademarks of contentment and rest in status, not the heart of an alien longing for their home. The cliché that you don’t take your wealth with you when you die is not only true, but a warning that you come to the end of your life and realize there is no echo in eternity, but your existence is more of a soft thud against the door of heaven.
If we understand wealth, happiness, and reputation as a mindset, then these words shift our blessing from how we feel right now back to what it means to follow Jesus – to serve, to give, and to love. It is impossible to follow Christ without becoming generous or feeling conviction over selfishness; this does not merely apply to those who have a lot of wealth, although it does much more apply to those who have abundance. We are not called to possess anything in this world, but only to be stewards of what we have been given for His Kingdom.
We understand we are only stewards of everything we have and everything we are belongs to the service of God. When everything belongs to God, we become less: we become servants. Humility and grace are the currency of the Kingdom of God, and we are poor, only possessing the authority of stewards to what we have been entrusted. The servant does not seek his rest until the will of his Master if completed – as long as we live, we are on the clock. Faithfulness to this calling becomes the blessing. Nothing is ours, everything is His.