Response to Prompt: Luke 6:20-23
“And he looked up at his disciples and began to say": - Luke 6.20-23, Matthew 5
These beautiful verses are so universal and sublime that they appeal to all people. I remember as a young boy sitting obediently cross-legged, in our school assembly, hearing these moving words and being swept along by them. I wasn't sure then what they meant but I knew, deep down that they were divine and that they were true.
These accounts in the Bible gospels, while all unique in perspective, all collectively paint a perfect picture of Jesus, and of what real happiness means.
While Luke states four of the qualities spoken by Jesus, Matthew lists nine. This is not an inconsistency because, Jesus often taught similar lessons on different occasions and varied his words, possibly with his audience in mind. Also, there are many examples in the gospels where the different writers write from their own unique perspective, or about the quality of Jesus that they were focusing on at that time.
The traditional terms used to describe these qualities referred to by Jesus are the “beatitudes” or “blessings.” However, a more accurate rendering of the Greek word used is “happiness” because “blessed” is an action of blessing, while “happy” is a state or condition that results from the blessing of God.
The first group listed is “The poor” and Jesus says that “Theirs is the kingdom of God.” This does not mean that someone in poverty is automatically considered righteous in God's eyes and will receive a heavenly reward. Many people in poverty can be criminals, unbelievers, or disloyal to God. The words that Jesus uses means “Poor in spirit” translated as “Beggars for the spirit.” Jesus is identifying those who recognise that they need God's spirit in their lives - that they are poor in it. Those who beg for God's spirit and wisdom will inherit his blessing at the end of the world's appointed times.
Luke then identifies those who “hunger.” But this again is not literal hunger for food, as Matthew elaborates when he writes - “Happy are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, since they will be filled.” So, this “hunger” is for justice, the same as the quality mentioned by both Luke and Matthew – “Those who weep” and “Those who mourn.” They weep and mourn because of wickedness in the world and because people have turned away from God. As the prophet Ezekiel puts it, they are “Sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that are being done” - Ezekiel 9.4. These people hunger for God's will to be done on earth - Matthew 6.10. When that kingdom comes, Jesus promises them that they will “laugh” and “Be comforted.”
Matthew now lists those who are “meek.” This word can also be translated “Mild-tempered” and it carries the idea of humility, someone who is teachable, not arrogant and proud. Jesus promises these meek ones that they will “Inherit the earth.” Imagine our world full of gentle, teachable people, chosen by Jesus himself? What a contrast to the arrogance, competitiveness and selfishness we observe in our crumbling societies today. The famous Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi reportedly once told British officials “When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.”
Matthew records Jesus turning his attention to the “merciful”, promising that “They will be shown mercy.” At the heart of God's law was always mercy. As one writer put it, “Justice where necessary but, mercy where possible.” Jesus always commanded his followers to forgive. In fact Jesus warned that if people judge others harshly and hold grudges, then “Your Father in Heaven will not forgive you.”
Next, Jesus talks of the “Pure in heart.” This means those whose intentions and worship is natural, clean and honest. Paul wrote of the need to display “Love out of a clean heart and out of a good conscience and out of faith without hypocrisy.” - 1 Tim. 1:5. What reward will these pure in heart ones receive? “They will see God” Jesus promises. How is that possible, since the Bible says clearly that “No man may see God and live” - Exodus 33.20. They see God in three ways, first by observing his son – Jesus. The Apostle John explained that “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Jesus confirmed this when he told people “He who has seen me has seen the Father” - John 1.18. Jesus is described as “The image of the invisible God.” This may remind us of the old saying - “He is the image of his father” meaning the person is just like his father in his ways. The second way all of us can “See God” is through “Eyes of faith” or, as Paul puts it “He has enlightened the eyes of your heart.” That is, we come to know God intimately when we learn his will and receive his spirit. Lastly, for those blessed with the opportunity to be in Heaven ruling as monarchs with Jesus, they will, as new spirit creations, literally “See God” himself - what an ultimate honour! (I'm not one of those though, I'm afraid).
Jesus singles out “The peacemakers” for praise and a blessing next. There is a massive difference between someone that “has” peace, and someone that “makes” peace! For example, a person may own a car, a garage may repair a car, but only a highly qualified designer and engineer can “make” a car. Such an expert brings something into existence, something that was not there before. This is what Jesus is referring to when he describes “Peacemakers.” These would be people who sow seeds of peace wherever they go. They would bring peace to a turbulent situation. They would nurture peace in angry hearts, just as Jesus did with the broken-hearted and the despondent ones in his days.
Lastly, both Luke and Matthew record Jesus' inspiring words for his loyal ones who will be “Persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” These ones would be reviled and insulted, would be accused of being evil. In fact, John warned Jesus' disciples, in all generations, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you,” and Jesus himself said “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you.” However, Jesus faithfully promises such loyal disciples - “Rejoice and be overjoyed, since your reward is great in the heavens, for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.”
In this sermon, Jesus Christ is showing the way to true blessings - true happiness. Such a peaceful, blissful state of mind is not obtained by pursuing careers, money, fame or material possessions. Solomon, who was once the richest, most successful man on earth, wrote, under divine inspiration, that such things are “Vanity and a chasing after the wind” - Ecclesiastes 1. Jesus urged people to “Keep on seeking first his kingdom, and all these other things (necessities - not luxuries, needs - not wants) will be freely given to you.” When we take a look around at this sad world today and see the way that people are chasing such illusions, do we see a happy, united world, even among the rich and powerful ? Do we see peace and love? No, it is the opposite - just as the Bible foretold, that people would be “Lovers of themselves, lovers of money, not open to any agreement, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, fierce, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” - 2 Timothy 3.1-4. The Apostle Peter warned that those who chase such things “Are promising them freedom, while they themselves are slaves.” - 2 Peter 2.19. Jesus himself foretold that there would be “Anguish of nations, not knowing the way out” - Luke 21.25.
Jesus, by his beautiful inspired expressions in his sermon, is pointing the way. All we have to do is listen and follow. Only then, will we be truly “Happy!”