I preached on the topic of thanksgiving over the weekend, for obvious reasons, but also because I live near the towns in central Illinois that were affected by last weekend’s tornados. It seemed appropriate to deal somewhat more seriously with what we value in light of so many people, not just near home, but abroad as well, lacking tangible reasons to give thanks. I thought I would share some of these thoughts with you here and they start with when Jesus preaches to the crowd during His Sermon on the Mount. In this Biblical account, He employs an interesting, value-shifting idea.
“Happy are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Happy are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Happy are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:20-21).
While we tend to glaze over such words, marking them as simply one of Jesus’s many kind platitudes, what strikes me upon closer inspection is the word Jesus uses to mean “happy.” The Greek word here is makarios (ma-ka-ree-aus), which means “happy” or “blessed.” However, as is the case with other English words when translated from Greek, there is more than one option that could have been used.
Another Greek word commonly translated “happy” is eudaimonia (ei-you-diemon- ee-uh). This notion of happiness is most commonly what we would associate with our notions of thankfulness; in other contexts eudaimoina can be translated as fulfilled or flourishing. On our thanksgiving holiday we name the areas of our life in which we feel fulfilled and offer up our thanks, but Jesus in His Beatitudes chooses not fulfillment as a core value in His Kingdom, but rather pure happiness (makarios) unattached to circumstances.
In a similar parable in Luke 12:14-21 Jesus describes a man who tears down his barns in order to build bigger ones in order to accommodate his recent good fortune (an eudaimonistic reason for thanksgiving to be sure). However, in the story, the man dies the night his new barns are completed, leaving his vast surplus to no one. Jesus concludes this story by saying in verse 21 that the man was rich everywhere but “toward God”.
Happiness in God’s economy is not related to the ways we flourish or feel fulfilled; indeed, the crowd to which Jesus was preaching on the “Mount” had no earthly reason to be thankful… but they were, as described by Jesus, happy because of their relationship to Jesus. In this life momentary eudaimonia may come and go, but Jesus promises to be our eternal source of makarios – a never-ending joy that comes only from closeness to God through His Son Jesus.
What are your thoughts? What does thankfulness mean to you and, if you have a relationship with Jesus, how has that relationship formed your values and notions of thanksgiving? I’d love for you to leave a comment below and share your thoughts.