The blessed ones

W]ho are the blessed ones? It’s a question my house church leader asked last week. When I call someone blessed, what do I usually mean?

In the past, I meant that they had God’s favor in some way. Or, in a more crass but honest way, God helped them get what they want. Tiger is blessed with golf skills to win major tournaments, eh? Or a neighbor is blessed because they got promoted or nabbed a raise. Or a student is blessed with smarts to get into the right schools. Or a couple is blessed because they got a deal on a new home or car. Or they have healthy children, or they found a great parking spot. Being blessed usually means they have all they want, and God is helping them get it. And they seem thankful. So they must be blessed, right?

But Jesus seemed to have a different definition, based on a sermon he gave to the crowds at the foot of a mountain. He preached to a bunch of Israelites, whose worldview isn’t too far from our own today: they thought that having health, wealth and many children was a sign of God’s favor on their lives — and thus, they were blessed by God. But Jesus puts it another way. Here’s my version:

You’re actually in God’s favor when you feel far away from him — you are welcome in God’s land.
You’re actually in God’s favor when you mourn — you will be comforted.
You’re actually in God’s favor when you’re not taken seriously and ignored — you will one day hold the planet in your hands.
You’re actually in God’s favor when you’ve been oppressed and abused yet long for justice — you will be filled.
You’re actually in God’s favor when you show mercy though others have hurt you — you will be shown mercy.
You’re actually in God’s favor when you are idealistic and taken advantage of — you will see God.
You’re actually in God’s favor when you try to get in the middle of things but end up being hated on both sides — you are a child of God.
You’re actually in God’s favor when you’re persecuted because of justice — you will be welcomed in God’s land.

Imagine that. If you feel far away from God and yearn for more, then you are truly blessed. If you long for justice yet weep when it doesn’t come, you have God’s favor. I sometimes feel like I’m out of God’s favor when I can’t feel his presence, but this passage is a reminder that I might actually be in His hands, not out of them. When you’re trying to do things rightly, but you only get more suffering, you actually have God’s backing. Instead of those who get their way, those who face hardship are actually the ones God supports, the ones who are blessed.

In Jesus’ time, the religious leaders would’ve considered the people on this list to have done something wrong to lose God’s favor. Clearly, because of their circumstances, they must be outside of God’s love, right? But Jesus uses these words to invite people back into God’s community, that the Job-like ones might actually be in God’s approval. And to people in these categories, that must’ve felt like good news.

So for those who feel like God is quite far away, but long for His presence, have hope. For yours in the Kingdom of heaven.

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  1. WOW.

    I needed that.

    Thanks. (You IV-staff people are always so wise!!)

    By the way….

    I’m a UCD-IV alum, moved to socal (home). Is there anyway I can help/pray for socal IV’s?




  2. hey james. this entry came to me at the right time as i prep for a busy week of tough meetings with friends and church. hope to catch up soon.


  3. thank you a million times over…


  4. Yo Choung, why you gotta make me tear up like that?

    Thanks for the perspective, bro…..

    but do you ever wonder why “favor” hurts so bad in the moment?

    >Your favorite Black Scandinavian American


  5. James, insightful comments here. I didn’t know you had a blog, so now I’ll have to follow it.


  6. it seems the formula of “God’s favor = prosperity” is universal across time and space. how globally counter-cultural Jesus can be!


  7. as with everyone else, this was a good reminder for me right now, as i’m sort of wandering through the wasteland. thanks.


  8. Nice. Better than “The Message”. =)

    Quick question, though… how’d you get “when you’ve been oppressed and abused in the face of injustice” from “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”? I see the connection, just not as clearly as the other ones…


  9. Hey Dan — great question. It’s because the word for “righteousness” is better translated “justice.” The Louw & Nida lexicon define the word as “to cause someone to be in a proper or right relation with someone else — to put right with, to cause to be in a right relationship with.” So, it’s not just about individual purity or morality, but about setting things right — justice, or what the Hebrews would’ve called shalom. (In fact, it’s the same word that shows up in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness…” and again, it’s better translated as justice here too.)

    So, the kinds of people who long and thirst for justice are usually the ones who aren’t getting justice — who face oppression and injustice and know that something better is out there.


  10. Amen! Dallas Willard may be off in the wilderness writing his next book, but James Choung is back blogging =) Good to see Willard wisdom translated in new ways.


  11. blah. i echo lars’ comment.


  12. Thank you for the list…I’ll use it


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