There is a French Canadian tradition whereby the parents bless their children on New Year’s Day. Every year, growing up, my father would enact this ritual and bless his family. No matter what my relationship with my father was like throughout the year, I knew that undergirding it all was a blessing. For that, I am eternally grateful. It is from this experience of blessing that I ponder this week’s readings, readings that call us to examine the deep logic of blessing.
Blessing is an often misused and misunderstood term. We will say that we are blessed when we experience good fortune. For example, I am blessed because I got a new car or blessed because I have a healthy family or blessed because I am gainfully employed. The problem with this logic is that it suggests that those who do not have these things are not blessed. When blessing is associated with having the good things in life, then those who lack these goods are presumed to be beyond the reach of God’s blessing.
Jesus reverses our notion of blessing as he proclaims his sermon on the mount. As he lists off his criteria for blessing, it is the have-nots who are blessed, not the haves. The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the reviled and persecuted are blessed. Jesus turns our human logic of blessing on its head! God’s gratuitous love — God’s blessing — is more concerned with those who lack than with those who have in abundance.
Some theologians call this the preferential option for the poor. We could also call it divine love, God’s solidarity with all who suffer and are vulnerable. The blessing is not in the things we have, as wonderful as these things may be, but in the fact that God-is-with-us no matter what, in our most vulnerable moments. That is the blessing.
Reversing the logic of blessings calls us, as Christians, to act in a special way. We are called to participate in this reversal, to extend blessings to those who do not benefit from “earthly” blessings. Some would say that blessings can only bear fruit if they are given away. By this logic, it is our own experience of God’s embrace in our most vulnerable moments that allows us, in turn, to offer blessing to others. It is this stance of being open and vulnerable to God that allows God’s blessing to flow through us and into our broken world. That’s why the merciful, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are also among the blessed in the Beatitudes.
The prophet Zephaniah calls us to be a humble people who seek refuge in the name of the Lord. What a radical stance! Rather than claiming the goods of the earth as proof of God’s blessing, we seek blessing in our relationship with God and in our solidarity with those who suffer. By human standards, this is folly! Where is the status? Where is the prestige? Where is the security in an uncertain world? We are blessed when we “put out into the deep” and trust that God will sustain us. We are blessed when we receive God’s sustenance and break bread to share it with others.
I began by speaking about my father. He began each year by offering his blessing to his family. He was able to do so because he lived each year in humility, seeking refuge in the name of the Lord. He was a Saskatchewan farmer. He lived through the Depression and his lived with depression his whole life. He did not offer us his blessing out of his strength, but out of his faith. He was for us a conduit of blessing. Like my father, we are called to be conduits of blessing. We come to God with our humble offering, our own poverty and meekness, and receive God’s blessing with open hands. Then we give it away. That, in short, is what discipleship is all about.
Let us then “consider our own call, brothers and sisters: not many of us are wise by human standards, not many our powerful, not many are of noble birth. But God chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chooses what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are . . . ” (paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 1.26-28). Blessings emerge from our lowly places. Let us seek them there and then give them away!
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.