Jesus saw the crowds and went up a hill, where he sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them:
“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. [Good News Translation via BibleGateway.com]
All true happiness comes from God, at least that is what Jesus was saying in this passage from the Good News by Matthew. Contrary to what the makers of all sorts of excellent products, from five-hour energy drinks to organic vegan milk, happiness does not come from the pleasures we seek in our daily life.
If we were writing a 2012 “Happiness Is” list it would go something like this:
Happy am I when I am my ideal weight, have six-pack abs, thigh-mastered thighs, and a Brazilian booty.
Happy am I when I have children who are being raised by someone else and I can see them whenever I want.
Happy am I when I have fame and fortune.
Happy am I when I drive the right automobile with the perfect blend of power and eco-friendly fuel efficiency.
Happy am I when I have a job that pays me a lot of money but doesn’t take up too much of my leisure time.
Happy am I when I am playing video games (watching movies, listening to music, hanging out at my favorite bar with my buddies.)
Happy am I when I have found my purpose in life, serve in the nursery at the church, give God a 10% tip on my income (is that on the net or gross, again, I can never keep that straight?).
Happy am I when I get to do whatever I want, whenever I want, and I don’t have to take other people’s feelings and desires into consideration.
Happy am I when I think I am hearing from God and he tells me: (Buy a new porsche!).
Happy am I when I have a good job, my children are getting all As in school, and I have enough money left over each month to invest in my 401k.
Happy am I when the preacher does not preach too long.
Now, here’s the interesting thing. In my human nature I am self-centered narcissistic and arrogant. The only hope I have for “goodness,” spiritual fruitiness if you will, is to do this mysterious thing: “Walk in the Spirit.” Do you have a three-point plan on how to accomplish that? I don’t. It seems to be that the best I can do is to listen carefully for the voice of God and try and obey it, no matter how many psychiatrists want to label me as schizophrenic.
The other day when someone was cursing me to burn in the lake of sulphurous fire, I was reminded of this recipe for happiness and decided I must be a very HAPPY man, indeed. When a close friend told me I was leaving dead bodies behind me, I nearly became giddy with accomplishment! When a man I have supported in ministry told me I had a big ego and was taking credit for his work, I was feeling truly blessed! (Okay, maybe not. Maybe I was whining and complaining, staring at my navel and sucking my thumb.)
When I was remembering my dead brother and my dear departed wife, and crying, I realized that I WAS being comforted and I do have the promise that I will “dance” again! Jesus, the good shepherd walks beside us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death so that we may “fear no evil.” It does not say that there is no death and no evil. Only that he walks beside us. And that is good enough for me. At least for today.