In Matthew, Chapter 5, we find what we have dubbed “the Beatitudes.” They include: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
In the Beatitudes, the Greek word “makarios” is a difficult one to translate into English. (The above, a most traditional translation, uses the word “blessed”). However, I seek other options as well.
There is the tendency, by some, to see “blessed” as a reward of “stuff” because of good works. This might be envisioned as some sort of magnificent bedazzled crown obtained in the afterlife, which will surely outshine that of others. It would proudly be bestowed upon them with great fanfare, forever displaying their far superior efforts for all to gaze upon, when compared to those of a much lesser sort, which sadly might also include the tin hat category of “participant” (extreme sarcasm).
Other translations use the word “happy.” For me, this really doesn’t hit the mark. It brings to mind a gleeful emotive response that seems unrealistic for human beings when referencing real-life examples. There has got to be a better option.
The reverend doctor, Margaret Ayner, is professor of New Testament at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She prefers to use the term “greatly honored” when translating makarios.
I like that. To greatly honor someone may simply mean that we are given recognition, and that recognition, in itself, is the reward.
We should do the right things because they are the right things to do, not because by doing so we get a bigger brass ring at the end of the ride.
Can we actually read the mind of God? I would say, yes, in part. God’s will is on display for all to see when we read from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.
This runs strongly against the grain of human wisdom. It may seem like a minority opinion, absolutely foolish. One who does so might be taunted, laughed at, or may experience some form of banishment by those “who know better.”
Why should we do these things? It is because we would carry forth God’s agenda, and will result in “well done, faithful servant” at the end of it all.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 25 years.