Now on the national scale, we have many incredible things to be grateful for, but I think we fall into a trap. We ascribe our blessings to some special favor God has given us. And when we don’t have that special favor, we say America is losing its greatness and on the verge of losing its God-given blessings because of a long list of rationales including our insufficient virtue. In other words, we’re rich and powerful because God blessed us due to our ways of living (and to be ignored, slavery, the systematic annihilation of Native Americas, but extolled our wealth and freedom). Somehow some people just know this American blessing to be true. It is a power packed sentiment, and I have to admit, it is alluring to think we are special in the Creator’s eyes.
I think we confuse our national prosperity, freedom, and safety with some type of divine blessing. That’s a mistake easy to make. After all, why wouldn’t there be some external factor giving us all these things? But Jesus told us differently. He told us what being blessed is. And he told us how we are to know that we are blessed. It all comes down to our attitudes and our actions. Just after he began his ministry, Jesus sat down with a crowd, and he taught them. And the first thing he taught, according to the Gospel of Matthew, was what it means to be blessed.
Matthew 5:3-12 (NRSV)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
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.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We Christians have to beware we do often confuse prosperity with what Jesus described as being blessed. Maybe if Jesus had said, “Blessed are the constitutional republicans, for they shall have great wealth and power and righteousness.” Well, then I could be convinced America has great blessings through its form of government (a constitutional republic). But Jesus did not say that. Instead, he talked about the way an individual is supposed to live. He said our blessings would be derived from being poor in spirit, being meek, being merciful, being a peacemaker. And a result, we would know the kingdom, we would inherit the earth, we would receive mercy, and we would be called a child of God.
So is America all these things: poor in spirit, meek, peacemaker? Are we pure in heart as a country? Can we even be pure in heart? Perhaps, as a country, we could. But I think it would be fair to say a lot would have to change. But as a Christian, I know what Jesus taught does not have to be on a national level. It must be personal. That is hard stuff in this day and age, and this idea goes against the current national climate. But blessings are not a direct result of my earthly citizenship. They are a result of my individual choices and the way I live. And in that area alone I — we all — have significant work to do. And that’s the key idea, and one of the more frequently missed points of Jesus’ ministry: work on yourself first, and the rest will follow.