January 29, 2023
Revised Common Lectionary
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 (Mt 5:3)
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Are you blessed?
In much of North American society today you’re considered blessed if you’ve accumulated wealth, exerted power, achieved success, defeated your enemies, appear to have the perfect marriage, enjoy good looks, or have an attractive personality.
In Jesus’ time, mainstream religious teaching emphasized the blessings that flowed from strict adherence to the Law. The righteous person paid close attention to all the prescriptions of the Torah and in return expected to enjoy the blessings of a good life.
In this context, the very first words that Jesus uttered in his famous Sermon on the Mount could hardly have been more shocking: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3a).
Whom does Jesus name as blessed?
Not the self-sufficient but the poor in spirit.
Not the apathetic but the grieving.
Not the powerful but the meek.
Not the well-meaning but those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Not the judgmental but the merciful.
Not the sophisticated but the pure in heart.
Not the winners but the peacemakers.
Not the authorities but the persecuted.
We have heard the Beatitudes so often that they don’t carry the same force as they did for those who first heard them. We have domesticated these profound sayings and often fail to grasp their full import.
These are the blessed, says Jesus—those who are deemed as “outside” or “less than” in the eyes of mainstream culture. In the original Greek of Matthew’s Gospel, they are the makarioi, the blessed or happy ones. They are blessed not because of their poverty or suffering or smallness, but because God favors those who are unencumbered by wealth, power, and prestige. Jesus declares that these heirs of God’s promises are to receive the reign of God, sovereignty over the earth, comfort, mercy, the vision of God, and satisfaction in the victory of righteousness.
Jesus proclaims the kin-dom of God that is to come by naming those who are at its center: the poor and the lowly. While the promises that accompany each “blessed” are about the future that God has promised, the reign of God has already arrived both in Jesus and in the blessed ones that he identifies—the poor and lowly, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the ones who show mercy.
We don’t become blessed by working at it, but rather by heeding Micah’s simple call for us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). When we take our place among the poor and lowly, when we commit ourselves to God’s reign of justice and peace, then we are set free to produce works that reveal the reign of God and to embrace our identity as blessed ones.
A Hymn for Today: “O Blest Are You”
Former Hymn Society President Mary Louise Bringle, FHS, is a theologian, author, and teacher, who has also emerged as one of the most creative and prolific hymn writers of our time. She chaired the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song, which produced the most recent official hymnal of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Glory to God.
This text is far more than a paraphrase of the Beatitudes. In Bringle’s poetic treatment, Jesus speaks directly to those who are blessed, and offers personal assurance of the future that awaits them.
In Worship, Fourth Edition, it was paired with the tune ST. COLUMBA, which has a gentle, reassuring character. Listen here for a more recent musical setting by Zack Stachowski that evokes the same sense of quiet confidence in a call-and-response between song leader and congregation.
O blest are you, Christ Jesus said,
Who know how deep your need.
For you, I open heaven’s door,
Where earthly wants are freed.
O blest are you, the poor, the meek,
Who toil your whole lives long.
Though worldly scorn may deem you weak,
My joy will make you strong.
O blest are you, through grief and loss,
Who weep from sorrows borne.
Come stand beneath my empty cross:
I comfort all who mourn.
O blest are you who work for peace,
With patient hope and care.
And blest are you, when mercy shapes
Your life as loving prayer.
O blest are you, Christ Jesus says,
Who know rejection’s pain
From bearing witness for my sake.
I call you by my name!
Text: Mary Louise Bringle, b. 1953, © 2006, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tune: ST. COLUMBA
Image Credit: Sermon on the Mount, Laura James, 2010
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
To receive these weekly reflections by email, please send a message to email@example.com and type “Lectionary” in the subject line.