This coming Sunday in church we will be reading the “Beatitudes” from Matthew 5:1-12. It is a challenging piece of Scripture.
Twelve years ago in the first chapter of Christ Wisdom I set the scene for reading these “Beatitudes” as a guide to spiritual practice, saying in part:
Nine times between verses 3 and 11 in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says makaroi. The word is translated most commonly as “blessed”. So this section of Scripture has come to be known as the “Beatitudes” from the Latin word for “blessed.”
“Blessed” is a good translation of the Greek word makiroi. But an equally good translation, perhaps even better for our purposes, would be the word “happy.” In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s gospel we have Jesus’ gift to us, his prescription for living a happy, or blessed, or even blissful life.
Perhaps the word “happy” sounds trite to our sophisticated ears. But Jesus connects some strange things with his idea of happiness: “Happy are the poor in spirit… Happy are the ones who mourn… Happy are those who hunger and thirst… Happy are those who are persecuted… Happy are you when people revile you.”
Five of the eight “happinesses” listed in Matthew 5:3-11 are connected with difficult things. If I were to offer you poverty, mourning, hunger, thirst, persecution, and reviling, you wold not line up to receive my gifts. And yet these are some of the qualities that Jesus connects with his understanding of happiness.
Our problem with the concept of happiness is that we tend to think it depends on external circumstances. We think happiness means everything going nicely for us, like lying on a warm beach with the gentle sound of the ocean lapping at the shore.
However, right at the outset of his sermon, Jesus announces that he is introducing an entirely different concept of happiness, one that does not depend on external circumstances. Jesus is pointing the way to a happiness that comes from a deeper place.
The problem with external circumstances is that they are impermanent. They change. External circumstances that once seemed to be a source of happiness will eventually become a source of unhappiness.
I listen to a parent talk about her adult child who has become enormously successful in the corporate world. The external circumstances of this person’s life should make anyone happy – success, power, wealth, prestige. Who could ask for anything more? But this mother speaks of her desperate concern for her successful son who is being eaten alive by his job.
Think of a young person desperate to find the right life partner, who will bring great joy and fulfillment. Finally a wonderful romance is born and blossoms into marriage. Over the years, the romance runs out and the relationship becomes a source of pain for husband and wife. The circumstance that once brought happiness now seem only to produce suffering.
In both cases, the very set of circumstances that at first brought happiness, fulfillment, self-esteem, and gratification turned into a monster that was destroying the life it had once seemed to nurture.
It we are to experience makiroi, we must find something that can transcend circumstances. We must find a way of living that goes beyond the seesaw ups and downs of pleasure and pain. The gift that Jesus offers is the spiritual skill for living life less dependent on circumstances and free of the inevitable ups and downs, twists and turns, of fickle fate. Jesus focuses our attention on the inner life and teaches us the skill of resting and trusting in him so that our lives become truly free.
(Page, Christopher. Christ Wisdom: Spiritual Practice in the Beatitudes & the Lord’s Prayer. Toronto: Path Books, 2004, pp. 16-18)
The name in Christian tradition for that “deeper place” within us, is “Christ.”
Last Sunday in our pew leaflet we printed a series of Scripture verses that affirm the reality that this presence lives within our lives and is the source of our life and strength. These verses are worth holding close to our hearts:
CHRIST IN YOU
17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you…. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in (en) you. (John 14:17, 20)
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I (en) in them.
4Abide in me as I abide in (en) you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in (en) them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4,5)
22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in (en) them and you in me… 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in (en) them.’ (John 17:22,23a, 26)
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in (en) you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in (en) all!
it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in (en) me. (Galatians 2:20)
Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in (en) you is greater than the one who is in the world. (I John 4:4)
Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in (en) you? (II Corinthians 13:5)
But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in (en) me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being (Galatians 1:15,16)
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in (en) you? (I Corinthians 3:16)
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within (entos) you.’ (Luke 17:20,21)