In this post, as we begin to study the beatitudes, let us take a close look at the words blessed and beatitude.
We call the first verses of the sermon on the mount, The Beatitudes, because they all begin with the word blessed. Beatitude is a noun and originates from Latin meaning perfect happiness. It is equivalent to beatific which means rapturous, joyful or ecstatic. I’m sure you’ve read about beatific smiles, but beatific has a second meaning in Christian theology. It means imparting holy bliss or sacred bliss, or, to say it another way, set-aside-for-God’s-purposes perfect happiness. One of the three meanings of the word blessed has the same meaning as the word beatitude.
What does perfect happiness look like? Turning to our Scripture today from Psalms 133, we read a picture of goodness and pleasantness. I always pause at the oil in Aaron’s beard. It doesn’t seem like perfect happiness. Is seems like a mess. But the psalmist writes about the wonder of being one of God’s people.. The psalmist is speaking of the pleasantness of walking daily with God. We know that this Scripture refers to anointing oil, a precious perfumed oil used to set apart, or to dedicate a person to the priesthood, or to consecrate to God. This is what Jesus begins with in His Sermon on the Mount. He is telling us how to dedicate our lives to God and in so doing He is telling us how to be happy and how to live together.
Psalm 133 also gives us a double portion of meaning. Not only does the Psalm speak of good and pleasant happiness, but it speaks of consecration. James Montgomery Boice in his book, The Sermon on the Mount, opens with the origin of the word blessed from old English. Boice says the word is used to mean three similar things. It is used to mean consecrated, like a prayer before meals we call a blessing It is used to mean praise, as in Psalm 103, and it is used to mean perfectly happy, as in The Beatitudes. Psalm 133 speaks of the happiness to be had by living in unity and likens it to the consecration of Aaron by oil.
The final line of the Psalm states, “for there the Lord has commanded the blessing life forevermore.” This brings the Psalm full circle. God has made it so. We are blessed forevermore. How are we to receive God’s everlasting blessing? We are to live in unity, not a unity that we as humans shape, but a unity of God and according to God.
Our passage in Hebrews 13 tells us more about how we may live together according to God’s design. It even says that by showing hospitality to strangers we may be showing hospitality to angels. I love thinking on this. Here God is telling us how to live together in unity. It’s not a political game, but an intentional act of kindness to strangers, even those you may disagree with. And for this kindness, Hebrews 13 tells us God will not leave us or forsake us. It is breathtaking in its scope. All of this for a simple act of kindness.
I close with some thoughts on happiness. I have often thought of happiness as less that joy. I have thought that to be happy you had to ignore the world around you in all of its horrid decay. Joy meant, not so much to ignore, but to seek after God and to try and rise above this world. A careful reader will see my arrogance. We rise only because of God and certainly not by trying to separate the physical world from the spiritual light of God. In studying the Sermon on the Mount, I began to see happiness in another light. A happy child is not indulgent, in fact, a truly happy child is concerned with wonder and delighted by some outward thing. I am struck by the humbleness of happiness. I am struck by its lack of pretension. Maybe it is not nearly so worldly as I had previously thought.
Thank you for reading. May you be kind to those you meet this day. May you find happiness this day. May you find God’s everlasting joy. Amen.