Tuesday, February 2, 2010

happiness is...

The Word for today:
Matthew 5:1-16

selah: Matthew 5:3 --
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

(We use 'selah,' a term from the Psalms, to indicate a verse that is crucial to biblical understanding--so crucial that we should not only underline it in our Bibles, but store it in our hearts.)

Note well:
Today we begin "the Sermon on the Mount," which continues through chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the book of Matthew. It is, far and away, the most quoted, the most discussed, the most analyzed, the most beloved, the most misunderstood, and the most influential utterance in history.
Today we look at the opening lines of the Sermon, which have come to be called "the Beatitudes." The Beatitudes are delivered in rhythmic poetic cadence, each succeeding thought beginning with "Blessed are..."


Jesus Christ single-handedly turned this world upside down.

The classic picture of revolutionary disdain for the status quo is when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple. With one motion, the two great forces of the world--religion and finance--were summarily dismissed.

The principles of his eternal kingdom, announced here in the most influential speech ever given, must have been dizzyingly disorienting when they were first pronounced. We've heard these famous phrases--called the Beatitudes--a thousand times and they still leave us feeling unmoored from our standard operating assumptions.

The beatitudes aren't primarily religious or theological. The beatitudes are just a list of what happiness is. In fact, some of our Bible translations phrase them that way:

Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!
Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!
Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how the prophets who lived before you were persecuted.
(Matthew 5:3-12 / Good News Translation)

I'm going to lay down some emphasis to enable these over-heard but under-contemplated phrases to be heard as they were heard before they got too famous to be heard the way they were delivered. Listen, then, and hear:

You will never be happy until you know you are spiritually poor.
You will never be happy until you are humble.
You will never be happy until your greatest desire is to do what God requires.
You will never be happy until you are merciful to others.
You will never be happy until your heart is pure.
You will never be happy until you work for peace.


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