Blessed?

Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are the peacemakers…

I have been known to occasionally get fussy about the unthinking appropriation of religious language into common parlance.  For example, the Florida Georgia Line song entitled H.O.L.Y. uses the word that God uses to set apart his saints as an acronym for “high on loving you.”  Because of this, I’ve determined that all comparisons between FGL and Nickelback are moot because FGL is so awful they make Nickelback look like a decent band.  Another word that I’ve tended to want to protect is the oft repeated one in Sunday’s Gospel lesson “blessed.”

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To me, to be blessed is to find favor with God.  So the various #Blessed memes that are out there, usually associating God’s blessing with some sort of material possession or physical ability really make my blood boil.  But then again, so does the choice by most translators to make a similar mistake with the beatitudes: conflating the meaning of blessed and happy.

Despite our years of comfort with “Blessed are the meek,” the Greek word that Matthew chose doesn’t actually mean “blessed.”  Instead, Matthew chose the common word for happy.  “Happy are the meek” seems to make even less sense than blessed are the meek, am I right?  But the more I dug into that word, the more I realized that Matthew might have been onto something.

Having dedicated my life to the service of God in the Episcopal Church, you can imagine I’m a fan of our Book of Common Prayer.  In my now nine years as a priest, I’ve been through the Book from cover to cover more than once, and by far the best thing in there is Burial Office.  It is crawling with great biblical imagery, especially the opening anthem (which could use some gender neutral tweaks, but I digress) that ends with these words from the Revelation of John, “Happy from now on are those who die int he Lord!  So it is, says the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.”

As God is wont to do, this ordinary word “makarioi“in Greek, “happy” in English is transformed.  It is imbued with grace.  It is made holy, and not in the FGL sense, such that those who are called to live in meekness, as peacemakers, with purity of heart will find not just blessings, but happiness in their circumstances.  God turns this world on its ear, helping those who the world would say are outside of God’s grace and helps them to find joy in even the most difficult of circumstances.   Do you find yourself blessed by God?  If so, you better also find happiness.

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3 thoughts on “Blessed?

  1. Are nerdy Greek footnotes allowed? Here is one.
    Aristotle distinguishes between eudaimonia (usually translated happiness) and makarios (usually translated blessedness). He says eudaimonia is to makarios as the human is to the divine. He also says “mortals should think mortal thoughts.” The limited happiness of humans is contrasted with the unlimited divine happiness. Human limitations in life, power and wisdom in comparison with the divine happiness is noble and good but definitely inferior to God.

    I often translate eudimonia in class as happiness–but lately I just use eudaimonia and ask the students to learn a new word that may not have a good English analogue. When I get round to defining what Aristotle means by eudaimonia I offer this definition–activity in accord with virtue in a complete life with the necessary external goods (two chief external goods being, friends, family and a good name). Happiness does get to be a lose and flabby kind of word. In many cases it just means satisfaction with whatever desires we happen to have.

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