I wonder if you have ever had the experience of having seen something, you start to see it everywhere?. I suspect most, if not all of us have had that experience.
My dad previously needed a car with a boot big enough to take my mum’s mobility scooter. With my mum passing away, he no longer needs a car with a big boot, so he has downsized, and the repair garage he uses, who treat him as more than a mere customer, helped source a smaller second-hand car for him, a VW Up.
Before my dad got an Up I’d never really noticed this model of car (I’m not that attentive when it comes to cars anyway!), but since he got this car I seem to be seeing them everywhere!
Something similar has also recently happened to me in my reading of the bible. I recently read Luke 19 and his account of Jesus entering Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. In verse 42 Luke records for us Jesus saying the following words:
If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace!
Matthew 5:9; 38 – 47
Following this, no matter where I’ve been reading, the word peace and its synonyms and metonymies seem to be everywhere. As I write this someone has just sent me a WhatsApp of Psalm 34:14:
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it
Matthew 5:9 is the seventh of the nine ‘beatitudes’ Jesus gave his disciples on the mountain.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
I can’t help but conclude that for Jesus, for the early Church, the practice of peace-making was core to their discipleship. Is this still the case …do we think of peace-making as something core to following Jesus?
That this instruction to be peacemakers sits within the wider context of the Beatitudes is important, and we won’t have time on Sunday to unpack much of this.
In particular, we won’t have time to deal with an issue which has occupied many when they consider the Beatitudes.
Many of our English translations start each of the nine beatitudes with the word “blessed,” yet New Testament scholars are frustrated that this word does not adequately convey what Jesus intended to communicate.
Matthew uses the Greek word Μακάριοι (Makarios). The Latin translation of Makarios is beatus and it is from this word that we get beatitudes. Beatus means happy, blissful, fortunate, or flourishing.
Old Testament Link
Makarios is the word used by the translators of the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures for two important Hebrew ideas: šālōm (shalom) and ‘ašrê. In the Hebrew scriptures ‘ašrê, to quote Jonathan T Pennington, “refers to true happiness and flourishing within the gracious covenant God has given”. Or as Ellen Charry helpfully puts it, the “way of life that is summarized in …taking refuge in the Lord, being humble, walking in his way”.
‘ašrê is the first word you encounter in the Psalms:
“‘ašrê are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked …” (Psalm 1 v1).
Truly happy and flourishing are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked!
By using the word makarios Jesus, with its clear link to ‘ašrê , he is describing for us a way of being that leads to human flourishing, that leads to deep happiness and contentment.
France, Australia, and Wales!
R.T. France suggests two phrases which may better capture the fuller depth of makarios, and it is worth quoting him at length on this point.
Makarios does not state that a person feels happy …The Australian idiom ‘Good on yer’ is perhaps as close as any to the sense, but would not communicate in the rest of the English-speaking world! My favourite translation of Makarios is the traditional Welsh rendering of the Beatitudes, Gwyn eu byd, literally “White is their world,” an evocative idiom for those for whom everything is good.
Singing the Beatitudes
Reflecting upon the Welsh rendering of makarios, Gwyn eu byd, has got me thinking about Spafford and Bliss’s classic hymn It is Well with my Soul.
I think to say, or perhaps better still to sing, “it is well with my soul” captures well the force of makarios:
It is well with our souls when we are peacemakers, for we will be called children of God.
Preparing for Sunday
Why not ,as you prepare for Sunday, listen to the song It is well with my soul? There are countless fantastic versions of this song, but I’ve included a link to this version if for no other reason than the eagle-eyed among you will spot our very own Callum Tooth.