Gospel of Matthew 5: 1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
When Saint Augustine wrote his book on happiness, he used the metaphor of men as navigators: everyone wants to reach fulfillment in the journey of life, but not all of them have the courage to do it. Some stop before leaving the sight of land, never setting out after their destination. Others sail thoughtlessly into the open sea and are soon lost amongst the waves. Others, however, keeping their eyes on the goal, despite the storms, are able to guide the boat, albeit a bit shaken up, into the harbor of the desired calm.
Augustine would be right if we only knew where to go to find happiness! It seems that the less we understand what it is, the more we seek after it.
In our days, happiness almost seems like a compulsive attitude that leads us to continually fill our stomachs without ever feeling full. Some imagine happiness to be the moment when they have complete control over their life and can finally feel secure. Unfortunately life is much more like a raft that is always taking on water!
For others, happiness is a synonym of mediocrity, of simply being satisfied: the less you desire, the happier you are, a type of shallow Buddhism.
Then we have the famous “snow plow” parents that watch over the happiness of their children, removing any and all obstacles from their paths so that they needn’t experience even a drop of suffering or sacrifice. We have to preserve them, they say, like the prince of Gautama, within the imperial palace before his illumination. Unfortunately these children are likely to stumble into the darkness of depression in their adult lives.
Then there are those who frequent the marketplace of happiness where they sell themselves just to feel loved, at least for a bit. For them, happiness must be bought because they are convinced that they are not worthy of it otherwise.
Some might say that Christians have resolved the problem of happiness at its root by hypocritically renouncing happiness and projecting this human desire in a hypothetical imaginary future. Nietzsche would be right to say that Christians are cowards that invented the idea of humility so as not to admit that they have been defeated and are unable to confront the harshness of this life.
But perhaps poor Nietzsche didn’t realize that the first word in Jesus’ teaching from Matthew’s Gospel deals precisely with happiness, here and now. Unfortunately, perhaps out of modesty, even Christians do not use this word, substituting it with a term that seems a bit more holy and not so contaminated by banal human desires: they speak of beatitudes!
Jesus, however, vulgarly uses the word “happiness.” Neither does he use the word “eudaimonia” that the philosophers like Aristotle used. For them, in order to obtain happiness one must do something. Happiness for Aristotle is an end, an objective that must be reached by putting into practice certain intermediary actions.
Provokingly Jesus does not use this word, rather he uses the adjective “macharios,” as if he wanted to say that his idea of happiness is not that of Aristotle. For Jesus, happiness is a gift, not a conquest. Happiness is becoming aware of what you are. In fact, Jesus does not speak of happiness in the future tense, rather he uses the present tense: happy are you. They are happy because they are sons and daughters of a promise. When children discover that they are heirs, they are happy not only because they will receive the inheritance, but because this promise of inheritance means that they are already recognized as sons.
Jesus goes on to list a series of paradoxical situations in which no one would ever recognize the happiness he is describing. It is a very provocative way of speaking about happiness. Perhaps it isn’t by chance that in the preceding chapter, before beginning his preaching, he invited his listeners to change their way of thinking: metanoeite, change your thoughts, your mentality… we have tended to translate this morally with the expression “convert!”
For Jesus, the poor are happy, that is, those who must beg, those that don’t have anything to be attached to because they have learned to receive everything from life as a gift. Those who weep are happy because they have learned to recognize their own fragility and don’t hide it by defending themselves by holding up a heroic self-image. They are free to say “this is who I am.” Those who are meek are happy because they have given up treating life as if they were hunting, trying to capture others and control them as prey. Those who hunger and thirst for justice are happy because they keep the desire for justice for all alive and they collaborate with God in putting this world back into order (which is the biblical sense of justice). Those who are merciful are happy because they know how to displace their heart from their ego and give it to another person. They no longer withdraw back in themselves. Those who are pure in heart are happy because they know how to search for the good in all things, without always pointing out the bad, striving to understand what is behind the other person’s story without judging them. The peacemakers are happy because they work for reconciliation rather than to feed conflicts. The persecuted are happy because they accept humiliation even when they have the right to demand that their merits be recognized.
Let us not speak then of beatitudes, rather lets speak of Jesus’ discourse about happiness! And let it challenge your normal way of thinking. Let us ask ourselves whether our idea of happiness is similar to Jesus’ or not. This is just the first lesson, but like in every respectable course, the beginning sets the foundation. Otherwise we are building on sand.
For Personal Reflection:
– Try to recognize what has been your idea of happiness until now and compare it with that of Jesus.
Featured image: @Pixabay