Blessed. This word doesn’t necessarily mean what we think it means. Often, we describe ourselves as blessed when we have experienced something the world would see as success: financial gain, a promotion, property, fame, and recognition.
In Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5, however, blessed has nothing to do with fame or fortune. On the contrary, the word translated blessed describes the enviable state of a true disciple of God. Jesus defined the blessed as: the poor in spirit (v. 3), those who mourn (v. 4), the meek (v. 5), those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (v. 6), the merciful (v. 7), the pure in heart (v. 8), the peacemakers (v. 9), those persecuted for righteousness’ sake (v. 10), and those who are reviled and persecuted on Jesus’ account (v. 11). We are hard-pressed to see conventional success mentioned in association with blessing.
This is good news! Jesus levels our access to God’s blessing by saying that it is absolutely independent of a person’s disposition, affliction, health (which in Jesus’ day was especially connected to a person’s wealth), or societal status; rather, the blessing of God comes from trusting and following Jesus. We see an example of this in John 9. The disciples and Jesus passed a blind man as they walked, and, casually, they asked Jesus who ought to be blamed for the blindness: the parents or the man himself? Turns out, this correlation of disability or suffering with sin and specifically, earned punishment, was pervasive then, and it still is today. The theology of Jesus’ answer is worth examining: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Suffering and Blessed
The blessed life of the man born blind testifies to us two millennia later—what a profound honor from Jesus. What are the implications of blessings untethered from the worldly definition of success?
Suffering is Hard, But the Lord Works Through It
To be clear, Jesus didn’t refer to the man’s blindness as a blessing. And one wonders if the man was resigned to mistreatment, since he didn’t object when Jesus put mud on his eyes. Yet this blind man possessed a discernment that allowed him to know which voice to follow.
Disability and Suffering are a Part of Life
At any moment in time, any of us could join the ranks of the disabled; if we are granted long life, we probably will. Disability and suffering are consequences of living in a fallen world. Jesus, fully God and fully man, suffered as He was scourged and crucified. He didn’t deserve it.
Poor People Image God
The handiwork of God is displayed in every human being. Society has a habit of attributing value based on a person’s bank account, and stigmatizing the poor as people who are lazy or deserving of nothing. But Jesus loves the poor, whether it’s poverty of spirit, or material poverty (He Himself had nowhere to lay His head according to Matthew 8:20). The disciples dismissed an image bearer, but Jesus saw the man’s worth. When we follow Jesus, we are utterly and completely about the inherent worth of every human being, and we abandon the sliding scales of value.
Everyone identified the blind man as a beggar. The man’s family abandoned him, he could not work, and his community was comfortable with his state. But when Jesus entered the picture, He defended the man’s dignity to the disciples (John 9:3), He touched and healed him (v. 6), and His testimony changed from “blind beggar” to “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25). A man who was silent at the beginning of John 9 can ably argue against arrogant Pharisees about who Jesus was by the end of the chapter. He’s blessed!
When we dignify our brothers and sisters who are meek, poor, and mourning, we live in agreement with God Himself. When we alleviate suffering in Jesus’ name, we change the course of people’s lives. We likely cannot cure a disability, but we sure do have ample opportunity to ease the suffering of people around us. We can ensure that we feed and clothe the homeless and care for the mentally and physically challenged among us, honoring them as blessed in God’s eyes.