The ancient Israelites knew that invoking God’s blessing was serious business.  The Lord Himself told Moses to tell Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.  The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. (Num. 6:22-26)

 

So sacred was this act of blessing that to withhold it was considered the ultimate curse of one’s enemies: Let them be shamed and routed, those who hate Zion! Let them be like grass on the roof that withers before it flowers… and those passing by will not say: “On you the Lord’s blessing!” (Ps. 129:5-6, 8)

 

During His earthly life our Lord heard the priests pray the blessing from the Book of Numbers on the congregation assembled in the Temple.  It is likely that He prayed Psalm 129 which called for the withholding of God’s blessing on His foes.  He also prayed Psalm 128, which explicitly asks for God’s blessing on His friends: May the Lord bless you!  But our Lord turned the traditional order of blessings upside down when He declared: Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:44)  Probably some who heard this thought, “You mean those conniving tax collectors, professional sinners, oppressive Romans, immoral pagans?”  St. Paul declared that this is exactly what the Lord asks: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Romans 12:14)  It was radical.  It was revolutionary.  It is the Gospel.

 

St. Francis of Assisi heard the blessing from the Book of Numbers offered at the ordination Mass for some of his friars.  It moved his Scripture-loving heart so much that he began using this text himself – so much so that this Old Testament benediction has long been called the Blessing of St. Francis.

 

The Little Poor Man called the Lord’s blessing down upon young and old, rich and poor, humble laborers and simple family folk who sought to fear the Lord and walk in His ways. He used Psalm 128 to encourage his brothers in the grace of working: For, as the prophet says: By the labor of your hands you shall eat.  You will be happy and prosper. (RULE OF 1221, 7) But he also made a point of saying May the Lord bless you to those who insulted or mocked him, to those who questioned his integrity or derided his authority. He frankly declared that our friends are those who unjustly inflict upon us distress and anguish, shame and injury, sorrow and punishment, martyrdom and death.  We must love them greatly for we shall possess eternal life because of what they bring us. (ibid. 22)  This is radical. This is revolutionary. It is the Gospel.

 

Perhaps we need to rethink where we stand when we ask the Lord to bless someone.  Is God bless you only an automatic response to someone’s sneeze?  Do we ask the Lord just to bless those who bless us?  Or, are we willing to make the leap of faith into radical, revolutionary, Gospel love of neighbor and of enemy?  A heartfelt May the Lord bless you could well make all the difference in our Christ-following, and its fruit is PEACE!




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Psalm 128/129

 

 

 

 

 

O blessed

are those

who fear the Lord

and walk in His ways!

By the labor of your hands

you shall eat.

You will be happy

and prosper.

Your wife like a fruitful vine

in the heart of your house.

Your children

like shoots of the olive

around your table.

Indeed

thus shall be blessed

the man

who fears the Lord.

May the Lord bless you

from Zion

all the days of your life!

May you see

your children’s

children

in a

happy Jerusalem.

On Israel,

peace!

 

 

May the Lord Bless You

PART 33