This week the news sites I frequent had a couple of stories about the health and wealth gospel.
In its most simplistic form, the health and wealth gospel says that God wants to bless everyone. To be sure I agree with this. God wants good things for everyone. The health and wealth gospel also claims that God wants for those who truly believe, for those who are truly following his will, to be affluent and healthy, living a life of abundance.
It’s the reverse of this premise that troubles me. What does that say about my friend who is struggling with addiction and has exactly $2.17 to her name? Does God not want to bless her? What kind of God is that?
Not one I would like to follow, that’s for sure.
You see, I think God does want good things for everyone. Two things have led us here: first, we misunderstand what a blessing from God is, and currently think of it in financial terms; and second, we hoard financial and material excesses, refusing to share them with those who, like us, deserve every good thing.
There are several well-known proponents of the health and wealth gospel. Some have jets and mansion and others have lucrative book deals and television shows. While I do not necessarily hold any success against them, I do wonder about some of their claims. They are known to say that if someone truly believes, they will be healed. If someone truly believes, then their financial troubles will be gone.
If only it were so easy for my friends experiencing homelessness. Let me assure you, they do not lack belief. They lack housing. They lack relationships. But they are not experiencing homelessness because their faith is necessarily faulty, just like I am not housed because my faith is “good.” To say so is inappropriate and needs to stop.
In scripture, to be blessed means not to be gifted with financial resources but rather to be remembered and thought of highly after death. As the scriptures began to be canonized and then translated from the original languages into Latin, and finally English, this emphasis on individual wealth was just around the corner, as the Industrial Revolution came about and factories dotted the countryside. The original meaning of blessing is still part of our everyday language, however: the word “eulogy” comes from the Greek root for “high praise, especially after one has died.”
Interestingly enough, there are two women in scripture who are explicitly blessed: Jael, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Sunday sermons don’t typically feature Jael. As told in Judges 4 and 5, Jael was a quick-thinking woman who killed a man with a tent peg while he slept, bringing about victory in battle for the Israelites.
Mary, who we learn about in the New Testament, was “blessed among women,” and was chosen to be the mother of Jesus Christ. We know little of her apart from this function, but she must have been something special.
Of both Mary and Jael the texts say, “blessed are you among women.” That they were named at all is remarkable, and that they are blessed sets them apart even further.
This blessing of women further reinforces our clarification of being blessed as something other than wealthy. In biblical times, women could not be landowners or property owners. As such, they could be ascribed no wealth in terms or in fact. For them to be called “blessed,” therefore, must mean something else.
Could it be that being called “blessed” is not meant to be just for these specific two women, who are certainly extremes, but to illustrate that there is room for all of us to be called blessed – those of us who fall somewhere on between the Jael end and the Mary end? What does it mean for us to want to do leave a legacy behind, to do something that makes us remembered long after we are gone?
I know that my ship has sailed if I want to try to be remembered for the things we think Mary was prized for. When we think of Mary we think of the picture of innocence and passivity – when I think of Mary I think of everything I am not. But when I think of Jael I think of a woman who was faced with real circumstances, acted quickly, and did the best she could.
That sounds a lot like the women I meet here each and every day. In fact, that sounds a lot like me. And if Jael was called blessed, that means we too have a chance.by