Lent, Day 1 — Happy

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Lent day 1 (Ash Wednesday)

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
“Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
“Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
“Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
“Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
“Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
“Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.
“Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:3-10, CEB)

  • “Happy are the people who ______, because they will _______.”
  • Don’t rush through these. Look at the pattern. There’s a message in the repetition. Poetry sometimes uses repetition for emphasis. Jokes sometimes use repetition to set up a punchline, a surprise which often breaks the pattern.
  • Don’t rush through these. Before you name them “the beatitudes” in your head, before you anticipate what Jesus is going to say about the poor, the mourning, and the merciful, pause just a minute. Look at the structure of these sentences. What is Jesus saying to us with this repetition?
  • I think he’s telling us that our eyes can’t be trusted. Yes, it appears that those who mourn are anything but happy. Maybe there’s a reality we’re not seeing.
  • After you see the pattern, look at the verbs. Jesus says “happy ARE,” not “happy will be.” The ones he talks about now are happy now, because of what will be. This is not a promise for the future. It is a present reality.
  • You’ll notice I’m using a translation that says “happy,” because I don’t want to reinforce the notion that these are about promised “blessings” or “rewards.” Many of us were taught to think of God like a king who dispenses blessings according to a cosmic ledger: rewards for the good and punishments for the wicked. I do not think we can see them this way. (Jesus does talk about rewards in the next verse, but we’ll get to that tomorrow).
  • I think Jesus is talking about something that is more like a law of physics, inevitable and immutable. One might even call it “karma.” Things will balance. Those who mourn will be comforted, as certainly as the tides will follow the pull of the moon, or the seasons operate according to the tilt and spin of our planet. Human life follows certain laws, human beings and human consciousness grow in a certain way. Therefore the cosmic scales of justice and liberation are coming into balance, the moral arc of the universe is bending along a parabola. If we knew the moral trigonometry, we could even plot its course.
  • Peace-and-justice-seeking Christians often describe Jesus’ coming kin-dom as “topsy-turvy.” They point to Mary’s Magnificat where she says that God “has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed” (Luke 1:53). I see the same logic operating here. Jesus is announcing that God does not operate according to conventional wisdom. The reign of God means that the oppressed are being liberated, that the last are becoming the first. Whatever we may observe about the injustice, brokenness, and sadness of the world is not the full picture.
  • At some subconscious level, deeper than your everyday thoughts and feelings, you may already know this to be true. I hope you are able to know it and feel it in your bones.
  • I can’t get over how defiant and audacious these words are. Jesus doesn’t blink. “Those who hunger for justice will be fed until they are full.” The powers of this world should be shaking in their boots.