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CN 4 TN A: Road Map to Happiness

“Happiness is that which all [men] seek.” So says the great philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle also observes that everything people do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is what they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another. But the problem is that what people think will bring them happiness does not in fact always bring them true and lasting happiness.

Think of the drunkard who believes that happiness is found in the beer bottle. One bottle too much and he is driving home, runs a red light, hits a car and wakes up the following morning in a hospital with plaster and stiches all over his body. Then it begins to dawn on him that the happiness promised by alcohol may be too short-lived. Or take the man who frequents the casino to deal excitement. By the end of the month he finds that his account is in the red and that he can no longer pay his house rent. Creditors go after him until he loses his house and his car. Then it dawns on him that the happiness promised by the casino is fake. So Aristotle says that the ethical person is the person who knows and does what can truly bring them not just excitement or pleasure but true and lasting happiness.

Another word for true and lasting happiness is “blessedness” or “beatitude.” In today’s gospel, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount shows that he really wants his followers to have true and lasting happiness, the happiness that the world and everything in it cannot give. This state of blessedness is what Jesus calls being in the “kingdom of God/heaven”. The eight beatitudes we have in today’s gospel constitute a road map for anyone who seeks to attain this happiness of the kingdom.

Why does Jesus deem it necessary to establish these guideposts to the kingdom right from the very first teaching that he gives to the disciples? It is because of the importance of this teaching. Everybody seeks happiness. But often we look for it in the wrong places. Ask people around you what makes people happy and compare the answers you get with the answers Jesus gives. The world has its own idea of happiness. If a committee were set up to draw up the beatitudes, we would most probably end up with a list very different from that which Jesus gives us today.

Where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” they would say “Blessed are the rich.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are those who mourn” they would say “Blessed are those having fun.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are the meek” they would say “Blessed are the smart.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” they would say “Blessed are those who wine and dine.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful” they would say “Blessed are the powerful.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart” they would say “Blessed are the slim in body.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” they would say “Blessed are the news makers.” And where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” they would say “Blessed are those who can afford the best lawyers.”

We see that the values prescribed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are in fact counter-cultural. We cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. Of course, Jesus does not demand that we abandon the word. But he does demand that we put God first in our lives because only God can guarantee the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for. Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away.

The Eight Beatitudes do not describe eight different people such that we need to ask which of the eight suits us personally. No, they are eight different snapshots taken from different angles of the same godly person. The question for us today, therefore, is this: “Do we live our lives following the values of the world as a way of attaining happiness or do we live by the teachings of Jesus. If you live by the teachings of Jesus, then rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

 

 

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